Tag Archives: Jason Isbell

250 Word Album Review: Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free gets 3.5 Stars

Jason Isbell’s last record “Southeastern” catapulted him into a whole new stratosphere of stardom. He used good songwriting as his main selling point and gladly traded in noisy half full bars for sold out mid sized theaters where the crowd hangs on every word. “Something More Than Free” is released once again as a critic’s darling. He advances even more into his quiet singer/songwriter career and moves further away from the angsty southern rocker he used to be.

24 Frames” has the markings of another strong lead single (if singles even mean anything anymore for an artist like Isbell.) The big chorus and mid-tempo pace make it a clear favorite among this group of songs. Other than “Palmetto Rose” where Isbell gets a little bluesy but still keeps himself well under control there are no rockers here. Most songs are quiet thinkers where you wait for the story to unfold. “Speed Trap Town” is a great example of what he does best, tell stories that are foreign to the listeners life but aren’t all that far fetched from being a reality and that is what Isbell thrives on.

The vinyl once again is a double LP, at 11 songs and 44 minutes I really don’t understand why it needs to be three (or less) songs per side but it is. It makes listening a less enjoyable experience for me, I’d rather have 6 songs on one side and five on the other, I don’t think that the sound quality would suffer all that much from it. This album is still worth seeking out, it is no “Southeastern” but it is still very strong and an appropriate follow-up.

Key Tracks: “24 Frames” “Speed Trap Town”

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Posted by on August 1, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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Matthew Coman’s Top 10 albums of 2013

Matthew Coman is a St. Joseph, Missouri singer/songwriter that, despite being very young, has already compiled 3 albums and 3 EPs for his discography that can be found at He is an avid music nerd, loves vinyl records and is a huge supporter of Vocals On Top. We are privileged to have his list here.

Matthew Coman’s Top Ten Albums of 2013
(Not necessarily released in 2013)


1. Queens of the Stone Age- … Like Clockwork

Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Keys Tracks: All of them


2. Jason Isbell- Southeastern

Jason Isbell - Southeastern
Key Tracks: “Stockholm” “Traveling Alone” “Elephant” “Live Oak” “New South Wales” “Super 8”


3. Puscifer- Conditions Of My Parole

Key Tracks: “The Green Valley” “Monsoons” “Horizons”
“Man Overboard” “The Rapture” “Conditions Of My Parole” “Oceans”


4. Kings of Leon- Mechanical Bull

Key Tracks: “Beautiful War” “Temple” “Family Tree” “On the Chin”


5. Nine Inch Nails- Hesitation Marks

Key Tracks: “Find My Way” “All Time Low” “Copy Of A”
“Came Back Haunted” “Satellite” “Various Methods Of Escape”
“I Would For You”


6. Pearl Jam- Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

Key Tracks: “Getaway” “My Father’s Son” “Sirens” “Lightning Bolt”
“Infallible” “Swallowed Whole” “Let The Records Play”
“Future Days”

7. Andy Grooms- Grateful To Burn

Key Tracks: “Decadent Eyes” “I’m Not So Sad”
“Grateful to Burn” “Boy in the Bubble” “Nobody Knows”
“Itch To Scratch” “Master Of the Late Night”


8. Missouri Homegrown- You Asked For It

Key Tracks: “Bright Lights” “Bad Boy Blues” “Jesus”
“Wagon Wheel Motel” “High in Missouri” “2AM”


9. Gregory Alan Isakov- The Empty Northern Hemisphere

Gregory Alan Isakov- The Empty Northern Hemisphere

Key Tracks: “Light Year” “That Moon Song” “Evelyn”
“Big Black Car” “Idaho” “If I Go, I’m Goin”


10. Sound City- Real to Reel

Key Tracks: “Heaven And All” “You Can’t Fix This”
“Your Wife Is Calling” “Centipede” “Cut Me Some Slack”
“If I Were Me” “Mantra”


 Best Music Documentaries of 2013

“What is… Puscifer”

What Is Puscifer

“Sound City: Real to Reel”

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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Guest Writers, Lists


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250 Word Album Review: Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Jason Isbell - Southeastern gets 4 stars

Jason Isbell’s music just keeps moving in a different direction from where it started. The raunchy deep-south story songs of “Decoration Day” and “TVA” are long gone and he has moved into what is really a whole different genre. The songs are now slower, the guitars are dialed back, there is more emphasis on lyrics with the songs not being so linear anymore.

This may seem like a bad thing for Isbell fans but when they hear songs like “Traveling Alone” off Southeastern it will be hard to argue with the shift. This trend really started on his last album Here We Rest where the rockers were fewer and further between. Southeastern has all but abandoned them; just the raucous rocker “Super 8” remains to appease fans.

The gem of the album is a heavy-hearted song named “Elephant” where Isbell takes on how people deal with cancer. The oddly optimistic take of the situation sucks you in and leaves a lump in your throat that burns to hear the song again. “Relatively Easy” is a great closer for the record but it helps recover from a bit of a lull in middle of the album.

Fans will probably long for Isbell to let loose like he does on “Super 8” but it really feels like those days are behind him and he is just now making the music he has always wanted to and that he has worked so hard to grow into. If he can continue to record quality songs like “Elephant” “Traveling Alone” and “Relatively Easy” he will maintain a solid fanbase as long as he wants and record a lot of great records too.

Key Tracks: “Elephant” “Traveling Alone” “Relatively Easy”

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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in 250 word album reviews


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Signed! – Jason Isbell Here We Rest cd

Jason Isbell signed Here We Rest cd

Jason Isbell signed Here We Rest cd

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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Signed!


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Concert Review: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE 7/8/12

The Zoo Bar is a small venue in downtown Lincoln, NE that has a fairly legendary reputation as a great blues club. There are several bars that cling to this distinction but The Zoo Bar really plays it up with the word “Blues” in their bar logo actually bigger than the bar name. They also have tons of old black and white blues posters for shows at the venue on the walls as wallpaper on one side of the room. The upper area of the wall is filled with framed and matted black and white pictures of blues icons. These things give the bar a very vintage feel and succeeded in making you feel the history by being in the place.

The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE logo

The layout of the bar is pretty standard, a long skinny room with a bar in front on one side leading to a stage in the back portion of the place. I’m not sure how irregular the Jason Isbell show was for this venue but the place was setup all wrong for a rock show. One side was filled with round tables right up to the stage and the other had small tables and bar stools along the wall with one walkway between then and the round tables.

The venue’s seating was full 2 1/2 hours before Isbell took to the stage; meaning that any additional patrons would be forced to stay in front by the bar (where there was very little room to stand) or get up front and literally stand in front of somebody sitting at a table; of course blocking the person sitting’s view. This almost led to a fight at one point which wasn’t very surprising.

The opening act was Drunken Prayer, a folksey two piece band containing just a singer/ guitarist and a bass player. They would do an admirable job for an opening band and were good to listen to in this environment. They did a few traditional songs like “Ain’t No Grave” and gave their music almost a gospel feel. They would mix in catchy originals like the lovelorn “Brazil” and “Maryjane” as well as the entertaining story song “What Made Me Kill.”

The lead singer could have been a Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets vocal clone. At times it was easy to imagine this could have been a solo side project if Drunken Prayer’s singer looked anything like Henneman. Their set was entertaining for about a half hour before the act grew thin. A 40 minute set for the opening act would have been a nice exposure to them. Little did the anxious Sunday crowd know, at 40 minutes the band was only half way through their set. An 80 minute set by an opening band is simply too much. The band’s reception would have been much better if they wouldn’t have overstayed their welcome on stage.

Jason Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit would make a true rock star entrance well before 9:00. They would come straight out of the alley behind the venue to grab their respective instruments and tear into “Go It Alone.” Isbell was unhappy with the sound which could have been amplified by the fact that he and his band are preparing to record a live album soon.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE 7/9/12

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE 7/9/12

With guitarist Browan Lollar no longer with the band the only founding member behind Isbell is bass player Jimbo Hart who seems to be the backbone of the band. Keyboardist Derry Deborja got a more prominent role in the band’s sound with the absence of Lollar as well. The Unit is rounded out by Chad Gamble on drums who would get a chance to sing lead vocals on a cover of The Meters with “Hey Pocky A-Way.”

Isbell and company would work their way through both their catalog and Isbell’s songs with the Drive-By Truckers to end up with a 19 song, 115 minute set. The songs from his time with the 3 guitar band, the Drive-By Truckers would be the loudest and most rocking of the evening. However, Isbell strength seems to be in slower songs “The Magician” and “In A Razor Town.”

The best song of the evening would prove to be the finest song Isbell has written in “Alabama Pines.” The setlist was largely predictable for any fan of the band. The only surprise would come in the two song encore when they pulled out Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s “American Girl” to cover.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are always worth going to see. They put on a great show. The most frustrating thing about them is the lack of merchandise they bring with them. They had each of their 3 cds but no vinyl and always seem to be carrying just one or two small shirts, I can think of about 3 Isbell shows where I wanted to buy a shirt and they had no large or extra large sizes.


Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE 7/9/12 setlist:

  • Go It Alone
  • Tour Of Duty
  • Decoration Day
  • Heart On A String
  • Goddamn Lonely Love
  • Hey Pocky A-Way (The Meters cover)
  • The Magician
  • In A Razor Town
  • Alabama Pines
  • Streetlights
  • Try
  • Outfit
  • Dress Blues
  • Grown
  • Cigarettes and Wine
  • Codeine
  • Never Gonna Change
  • encore break
  • Danko/Manuel
  • American Girl (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover)
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Concert Review


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Vocals on Top’s Top 10 albums of 2011

Tom Waits Bad As Me

1. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Tom Waits should be a national treasure. He creates some of the most unique and creative music I’ve ever heard. He does have legions of fans and it seems everybody loved Bad As Me as well they should have. Waits’ recent work has been so strong this album wasn’t much of a surprise. It has a nice balance of “boom-clang” songs and ballads; both of which Waits executes to perfection. It is hands down the most interesting album of the year.

Check out the song: “Hell Broke Luce”

Wilco The Whole Love

2. Wilco – The Whole Love

Wilco is America’s greatest living band. They make perfect little pop-rock songs all with interesting textures and Jeff Tweedy writes some of the best lyrics around. The Whole Love was released to much expectation and I feel this is why this record gets overlooked a bit; because everybody knew it would be great.

Check out the song: “Art of Almost”

Say Hi Um Uh Oh

3. Say Hi – Um Uh Oh

Say Hi is the first “shocker” of my list. I just discovered this band this year and they are fantastic. I would classify them as “nerd-rock” that is very easy on the ears. Say Hi’s songs flow smoothly as much as any band I know, each song is its own little piece of pop wonderfulness.

Check out the song: “Bruises To Prove It”

William Elliott Whitmore Field Songs

4. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs

William Elliott Whimore make the most “real” music I have ever heard. Everything in his songs is authentic. The subject matter is very personal to him and never strays far from home. A lot of banjo and acoustic guitar fill this album with 10 hymns fresh from the black Iowa dirt.

Check out the song: “Not Feeling Any Pain”

Centro-matic Candidate Waltz

5. Centro-matic – Candidate Waltz

Cento-matic is one of the most under-rated bands in America I think. Will Johnson is a great songwriter and the band’s music along with Johnson’s voice is the most unique listening experience on this side of Tom Waits. The album is loud and abrasive but when paired with Johnson’s smooth, echoey vocals it makes for one interesting listen. Not to mention they have the absolute best album cover of the year.

Check out the song: “Iso-Residue”

Jason Isbell Here We Rest

6. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Here We Rest

Jason Isbell had possibly the two best songs of 2011 on his album Here We Rest. The pairing of the brilliantly county tinged “Codeine” and the flat out great “Alabama Pines” make this album a must. “Tour of Duty” also ranks with Isbell best-penned songs as well. The album is less cohesive than his last record but the high points are much, much higher.

Check out the song: “Alabama Pines”

Those Darlins Screws Get Loose

7. Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose

Those Darlins are a grungy group of 3 ladies and a guy drummer. They are rough and raw and Screw Get Loose is all the better for it. It is a garage-rock masterpiece. The band opened for the Old 97’s and Drive-By Truckers this year and supported a better album than each of those bands put out in 2011.

Check out the song: “Waste Away”

Iron And Wine Kiss Eachother Clean

8. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

I was not an Iron and Wine fan before this album. I thought Sam Beam’s record under the name Iron & Wine were flat out boring. I listened to this album and it is amazingly energetic when compared to the band’s other records. Each song has something really interesting about it, this is a true album that plays all the way through smoothly. I viewed this album as a bit of a re-invention for Iron & Wine.

Check out the song: “Monkeys Uptown”

Black Keys El Camino

9. The Black Keys – El Camino

The Black Keys throw out another bluesy gem with El Camino. The record is no big improvement over the rest of the band’s catalog but it is still a solid album. It is still ringing fresh in my ears so it is hard to tell how the record will age right now. I do have a feeling it isn’t a record I will go back to listen to much. It is still better than most music released in 2011.

Check out the song: “Little Black Submarines”

Awolnation Megalithic Symphony

10. Awolnation – Megalithic Symphony

Awolnation is the only band to make the top 10 with their debut album. They are a fresh sound and the music gushes with energy. Megalithic Symphony has way more keyboards than I am normally comfortable with on an album but the band uses them to their advantage in keeping the song amped up. This may be the only album I ever like from this band but it struck me and I feel it is a solid record.

Check out the song: “Jump On My Shoulders”


Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Lists


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Concert Review: Jason Isbell at Knucklehead’s Saloon in Kansas City, MO 9/16/11

Knucklehead’s Saloon is an uncomfortable cowboy bar embedded in a rat’s nest of train tracks in Kansas City. The venue plays host to many big name americana/country/blues acts. This Friday September 16th was Jason Isbell’s turn to take the stage at Knuckleheads.

The venue is one of the more difficult venues to find that I have been to; it seems to meticulously placed in the side of a big hill by a train track and you have to drive through a small seedy looking neighborhood to even see the place. The bar is set up as a “sit down” venue and has several permanent tables for the audience. The ceiling is very low for a venue and it doesn’t look like a typical place to see a show. The sound is good though, if you can get past the foibles of the venue you can see some great music at Knucklehead’s.

The opening act of the night was Sky Smeed, a traditional country type of act from Kansas. Smeed displayed his talents in front of mostly respectful crowd for an opening act and received a strong gathering of applause after each song. Like with most opening acts some members of the audience would be horribly disrespectful and be shouting to their friends no more than 20 feet from the stage but this is to be expected.

Smeed was one of the happiest performers in recent memory for me. He was constantly smiling and seemed genuinely appreciative of the applause. His music was perfect for the cowboy bar. He mixed straight forward country (not Kenny Chesney country, the good kind) with some blues songs and some more upbeat numbers. He was even able to mix in a Townes Van Zant cover. Some very well played lap steel guitar was delivered in heavy doses and Smeed’s set was all the better for it.

A nice feature of Knucklehead’s Saloon is the “Retro-Lounge” A second stage within the venue but not quite within earshot of the main stage. The is where Robbie Vee would display his throwback 50’s style rock and roll. Son of the legendary Bobby Vee, Robbie mixed his fathers songs with other music from that time including Buddy Holly songs. The set wasn’t all covers however, he also sang covers that would have fit right in back in the late 50’s/early 60’s. He had the full look with the slightly over-sized colorful suit, slicked back hair and most importantly fantastic black and white shoes.

The good thing about the Retro-Lounge is that Robbie Vee was playing as soon as Sky Smeed starting gathering his things on stage to make way for the next act. This makes a really nice transition between bands. The best music was yet to come as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took the stage at 10pm for a nearly 2 hour set.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is now sans longtime guitarist Browan Lollar. Instead of replacing him, Jason Isbell just takes control of all leads on guitar parts. Isbell is a great guitarist and is more than up to the challenge. I was a Browan Lollar fan and he was a great guitarist but the 400 Unit didn’t suffer much in his departure.

So now a 4-peice band; Isbell, bass player Jimbo Hart, Keyboardist Derry deBorja and drummer Chad Gamble tore into their set. It started with the solid rocker from their new record Here We Rest “Go It Alone.” Isbell would then do “The Magician” off his first solo album Sirens of the Ditch. A couple songs Isbell wrote with the Drive-By Truckers would follow in “Decoration Day” and “Goddamn Lonely Love,” would follow. He would also mix in “Outfit” and “Danko/Manuel” from his truckers catalog later in the set.

Chad Gamble took lead vocals on “Hey Pocky A-Way” and older song by a band called The Meters, this summoned several members of the audience to get up and dance. That song was sandwiched by two of Isbell’s best songs off his latest album Here We Rest, “Alabama Pines” and “Tour of Duty” both songs are a little slower tempo but are great songs. “Alabama Pines” may be the best song Isbell has written so far. The new album would get a nice sampling played from it. Of the 17 songs played he would mix in a total of 6 songs from the record.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performing live at Knucklehead's Saloon in Kansas City, MO on 9-16-11.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performing live at Knucklehead's Saloon in Kansas City, MO on 9-16-11.

After testing the waters with the quieter “In A Razor Town,” Isbell decided the crowd was respectful enough and listening carefully enough to break out a couple of quieter songs. He even took time to thank the crowd for listening. He sent the band off stage then started “Daisy Mae” which turned out to be a show highlight after a couple quick false starts. With the band off-stage Isbell then delighted the audience with a seldom performed song that predates even his days as a Drive-By Trucker, “T.V.A.” The song received a burst of screams after the first line the crowd relished in the performance of the song before Isbell himself would retire from the stage.

The 3 song encore featured “Danko/Manuel” “Codene” and a driving version of the Neil Young classic “Like A Hurricane.” “Codene” required special instrumentation as Jimbo Hart picked up his standup bass and Derry deBorja strapped on his accordion, it was the only song of the night to feature either instrument. “Codene” was pure country gold as Isbell replaced the violin of the studio version with guitar licks to match. The evening would come to a logical conclusion when the blast of distortion that is Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” ended. The band held true to the haunting song and left the audience counting down the days until the band returns back to the area.

The setlist:

  • Go It Alone
  • The Magician
  • Decoration Day
  • Goddamn Lonely Love
  • Alabama Pines
  • Hey Pocky A-Way (The Meters cover, Chad Gamble on vocals)
  • Tour of Duty
  • Streetlights
  • Try
  • In A Razor Town
  • Heart on a String
  • Outfit
  • Daisy Mae (Isbell solo)
  • TVA (Isbell solo)
  • Danko/Manuel
  • Codene
  • Like A Hurricane (Neil Young cover)
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Posted by on September 17, 2011 in Concert Review


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