HomeNewsInterviewsCD ReleasesCD ReviewsConcertsArtistsArchive

Less may be more for Isbell, and that's just fine

Roadrunner, Boston, June 25, 2024

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

If bigger is better, than smaller worked just great tonight for Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit.

Depending on the night, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit may be playing before 3,500 or so as they did tonight at a sold-out show or looking ahead to tomorrow night, tens of thousands opening for Zach Bryan at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

Playing the venue for the second time in less than a year, Isbell and his backing mates made yet another emphatic musical statement from the strength of the songs to the quality of the players.

Isbell and band focused on last year's excellent, Grammy Award-winning "Southeastern," playing half a dozen songs from the disc.

One of the best of the night came three songs in, "King of Oklahoma." The song is about a down-and-out guy, who is looking to resort to stealing copper wire (he's too late) after falling victim to opioids. An extended musical run featuring guitarist Sadler Vaden heightened the gravity of life for the down-and-out protagonist.

Isbell, though, did not peak too early in a consistently pleasing set with such songs as "Dreamsicle," "Alabama Pines" and "Speed Trap Town" being standouts. Many of Isbell's chronicle small town life and either falling victim to it or leaving as soon as possible.

One wonders what it's like for Isbell to sing songs that have to do with his ex-wife, Amanda Shires, who also was part of The 400 Unit until last year. The usual set closer, "Cover Me Up," perhaps his best-known song, is about his love for Shires following her help in getting him into rehab for alcohol abuse about a dozen years ago.

Or his other well-known song, "If Were Vampires," about the inevitability of death. Perhaps the death of a relationship too with the chorus:
"It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone

Isbell put his heart into both (along with everything else on this night) no matter how difficult it may have been.

The 400 Unit remain one excellent band. With the core of Vaden, keyboardist Derry DeBorja and drummer Chad Gamble, the band has integrated drummer, guitarist and singer Will Johnson and bassist and Aussie native Anna Butterss, who only started filling in regularly earlier this year after stints last year for the since-departed bassist Jimbo Hart.

Bottom line is these cats can play. Vaden took a good number of leads, giving the songs a lot of bite, but never overdoing it. Alternating between upright and electric bass, Butterss and Gamble forged a strong rhythm section. DeBorja may tend to be more in the background, but provided just the right fills as well.

About the only questionable song on a very strong set list was the closing number, a cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" with DeBorja weaving the well-known keyboard line resulting in the crowd singing along. While upbeat, the song felt out of place compared to the rest of the set.

Otherwise, this was meat-and-potatoes Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit with lots of good singing, playing, songs and flow. The big show may be coming on Wednesday, but Isbell demonstrated time and again less can be more and work out just fine.

Courtney Marie Andrews yet again impressed with her short set – albeit way too short, clocking in at a paltry 27 minutes! Andrews' calling card throughout her career has been her vocals. While alternating between acoustic guitar and keyboards, Andrews' solo set was highlighted by her vocal command.

Maybe that's why Roadrunner was already quite crowded when Andrews hit the stage and even remained pin drop quiet for most all of her set despite never revving it up with an electric guitar.

Andrews played everything from just recorded songs, including "Only the Best," (Andrews said she had just finished recording a new release last week) to her chestnut of "May Your Kindness Remain" where her voice soared time and again before coming down to earth.

This was a case of where "less is more" did not apply. Andrews made the most of her time. Just that she deserved more.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
AboutCopyrightNewsletterOur sister publication Standard Time
Subscribe to Country Music News Country News   Subscribe to Country Music CD Reviews CD Reviews   Follow us on Twitter  Instagram  Facebook  YouTube