Review by Adrienne Frances

Live From The Ryman by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit opens with ‘Hope The High Road’, a political guitar-driven anthem possessing all the right ingredients to tell you “Here’s the band you came to see”. Politically outspoken, fiery with a side order of slide guitar and a sprinkling of nice harmonies – but it disappointed slightly as it felt like the sound tech wasn’t quite on point and the middle notes seemed a little muddy. However by track 2, ’24 Frames’, the sound technician seemed to have awakened and employed their skillset to its full potential with a much cleaner sound.

The album opened with a number of firm fan favourites, with wonderful embellishments from the string section that really brought the songs to life and balanced out the low end focused melodies. ‘Flying Over Water’ is of particular mention; a wonderful stripped back piece that really displayed Jason’s voice and resonates with the soul and roots of the band – reminding you of why he has the fan base he does.

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The album finishes strong with a love song to resonate with all the Anne Rice / Twilight fans out there ‘If We Were Vampires’. This is the song that Spotify arbitrarily suggested I might like a year or so ago, and they were right! I love the original track with lilting harmonies from Amanda Shires – I’m not afraid to say I’m a complete sucker for a track that harmonises male and female vocals together beautifully. Sadly, the harmonies of the album version fell into the background on this version and I can’t help but feel bad that the final mix of this let this slip through the net.

I think I keep wishing more of their tracks made use of Shires beautiful voice, how it complements Isbell’s so perfectly… There are some delicate harmonies on tracks like ‘Elephant’ however this album feels strongly weighted towards Isbell’s vocals losing the nuances of those tracks that have gengler harmonies threaded throughout, and overall has quite a stadium rock feel to it. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The crowd loves all of it, as their cheers audibly break through on many tracks. This is an artist whose work is loved, and even if I don’t love all of it, his fans definitely do.

For me personally, it’s a solid 3/5 – happy to play it in the background as I work. I’d say for fans of Isbell, it’s a must, with only the mix letting it down slightly on a couple of tracks – and so 4/5 overall!

Live From The Ryman – Released 19th October 2018 on Southeastern Records

Track Listing
1. Hope The High Road
2. 24 Frames
3. White Man’s World
4. Flagship
5. Cumberland Gap
6. Something More Than Free
7. The Life You Chose
8. Elephant
9. Flying Over Water
10. Last Of My Kind
11. Cover Me Up
12. Super 8
13. If We Were Vampires

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