Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Tickets – Keller Auditorium – Portland, OR – September 11th, 2017

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

True West Presents at the Keller:

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Keller Auditorium

Portland, OR

$35-$45 (RSVD)

This event is all ages

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's new album, The Nashville Sound, is a beautiful piece of American music-making, but watch yourself: it will light a fire under your ass. "You're still breathing, it's not too late," Jason sings.
This album is a call, and the songs on it send sparks flying into a culture that's already running so hot the needle on the temperature gauge is bouncing erratically in the red. And while it's understandable that, in this moment, some people want their radio to help them drift away, this finely calibrated set of ten songs is aimed right between the clear eyes of people who prefer to stay present and awake. It's a call to those who won't cower no matter how erratically the world turns, and who aren't afraid of what looks back when they look in the mirror. Bruce Springsteen did that. Neil Young did that. Jason Isbell does that.
There are songs on this album that cut to the chase. "Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know," Isbell sings on the album's first single, "Hope the High Road." "But I ain't fighting with you down in the ditch. I'll meet you up here on the road." As singular as that lyric is, there's nothing coy or obtuse about it. Meanwhile, other songs here take a subtler tack.
Check out track three, "Tupelo." It plays like a warm ode to Northeast Mississippi-on the first few listens, it sure sounds like a loving tribute-but on the fourth you realize that the town the protagonist is extolling is actually a blazing hellhole. Perfect-as a hideout, anyway. "You get about a week of spring and the summer is blistering," Isbell sings. "There ain't no one from here who will follow me there." It's the kind of twist that compels the fifth listen-and the fiftieth.
As with Isbell's 2013 breakthrough, Southeastern, and his double-Grammy-winning follow up, 2015's Something More Than Free, The Nashville Sound was produced by Dave Cobb. Isbell says that he and Cobb created a simple litmus test for the decisions they made in the two weeks they spent at RCA Studios (which was known as "The home of the Nashville Sound" back in the '60's and '70s): they only made sonic moves that their heroes from back in the day could've made, but simply never did. It's a shrewd approach-an honest way to keep the wiz-bang of modern recording technology at arms length, while also leaving the old bag of retro rock 'n' roll tricks un-rummaged. Lyrically, The Nashville Sound is timely. Musically, it is timeless.
It's also worth noting that this album isn't credited to Isbell alone. For the first time since 2011's Here We Rest, Isbell's band, the 400 Unit, gets title billing. "Even when I was writing, I could always hear the band's stamp on the finished product," Jason says. "These songs needed more collaboration on the arrangements to make them work, and I felt like the band deserved it after the way they played." Given Cobb's strict insistence on cutting songs live with no demos or rehearsals, you can easily imagine how the brilliantly raw performances on the record will translate to the stage when the band takes these new songs out on the road.
And boy, there's nothing like a 400 Unit show. Not just because the band smokes, but also because Isbell's fans are among music's most ardent. They listen to these songs for months and months on their own, and that momentum rolls them right up to the doors at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, or the Beacon Theatre in New York or the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. And when the band kicks in, they are ecstatic. It's a rock 'n' roll show that feels like fellowship.
Which begs a question: Why do Jason's songs strike us so deeply? What makes this music of the soul? The answer has to do with Jason's authenticity, his intellect, his rootedness in both tradition (see: the childhood in Green Hill, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, where he grew up picking and singing in the style he remembers here on "Something To Love") as well as modernity (see: Jason singing about anxiety, or his complicated relationship to his iPhone).
Simply put, Jason has a gift for taking big, messy human experiences and compressing them into badass little combustible packages made of rhythm, melody and madly efficient language. The songs are full of little hooks-it could be guitar line that catches one listener, or a quick lyric that strikes to the heart of another-and an act of transference takes place. The stories Jason tells become our own. The music is coming not from Jason and the band, but from within us.
As you listen to this record, you will hear many themes: humor, heartache, wisdom, beauty, hope. But chief among them, strangely, is leadership.
If Southeastern (2013) was the Getting Sober record (Jason has been searingly honest in both songs and interviews about the time he spent in rehab), and Something More Than Free (2015) was the New Clarity record, maybe this one, The Nashville Sound, is the Way Forward.
And who better to lead us forward than Jason Isbell? Jason is a relentless and fearless selfinterrogator. (The first line of "Cumberland Gap"-"There's an answer here if I look hard enough"-will be familiar to those who know him.) And this album is a challenge, a gauntlet in song: Let's claim ownership of our biases ("White Man's World"). Let's embrace and celebrate the uncomfortable idea that the force that activates both life and love is death (the instantclassic "If We Were Vampires"). Let's consciously choose light over darkness ("Hope the High Road"). And for God's sake, if you are feeling anxious, alone, disenfranchised, depressed, mad as hell, or scared as shit, find something that gasses you up and work at it ("Something to Love"). Jason, it seems, after years grinding the rail that separates terra firma from the brink, has put in the sweat equity it takes to hug it out with his demons and fill his life with meaning, bright and clean.

If that sounds good to you, this album lights the path.
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls
Frank Turner is aware of the passage of time, of the influence of days that drag and months that gallop can exert on what he would probably never dream of calling his body of work. After all, it has been a number of years now since the hardcore troubadour transformed himself from The Boy Who Surely Could Not, to The Man That Did; it has been years now that his name has appeared in the largest type on ticket stubs that permit entry to such venues as Wembley Arena, or the Royal Albert Hall; just as it has been years since the sound of his voice projecting itself from a digital radio was anything like a surprise, let alone a novelty.

Naturally, such upward mobility provides reasons to be cheerful, and in ways that it would be lazy to term predictable. But at the same time, the mindful songwriter will take heed: for in order to gain a foothold one can subconsciously lose an edge.

So when the time came, in the latter months of 2014, to record a new studio album, Frank took stock of his latest batch of constantly-evolving, keenly-observed vignettes and wondered, 'What now?'

"This is my sixth album, which isn't an inherently exciting album number, in and of itself," he says. "Lately I've been thinking a lot about debut albums. When a band makes a debut record, they essentially roll into the studio and play through their extant live set. There's freshness, an excitement to it that bands often lose as time goes by. I wanted to try and make a record that had that young, exciting feel, full of piss and vinegar. This also tied in with the fact that to date I don't feel like I've made an album that captures the live experience of seeing me and the Sleeping Souls do what we do best. So I had it in my head to make a record quickly, having worked on the songs for a long time beforehand in a live setting."

This Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls – that most supple, dexterous and punishing of permanent backing bands – did, putting in hard hours as the nights drew in over a practice compound in the Oxfordshire countryside. As always, the trick lay in translating the album as it existed in Frank's head to the point where others in his organisation were happy to lend their shoulder to its cause. The key to this exercise lay with producer Butch Walker. A noted singer-songwriter in his own right, as a technician Walker's name appears on the production credits of albums by artists as diverse as Katy Perry, Hot Hot Heat, Pink and Fall Out Boy. But it was the American's organic quality that caught the Englishman's ear, his capacity to transport songs forged amid the thunder of the practice room floor to the exacting standards of the studio without compromise or equivocation.

Butch Walker understood this as if by instinct. As with producer Nick Lowe who in the 1970s would say to Elvis Costello, 'This song has got four chords, what's the fucking problem?' the producer recognised that what was required was to let the musicians Trust Their Stuff, and for Walker to stand by ready to capture lightning in a bottle.

This the two parties did.

"The 'Souls and I flew to Nashville in December with a suite of very well-rehearsed and road-tested songs, and smashed out the album in nine days," says Turner. "Pretty much all of it is live, and I'm proud to say that with one exception every vocal take on the record is unedited as well.

"The end result is everything I wanted it to be."

If Frank Turner & The Sleeping Soul's fifth album, Tape Deck Heart, released in 2013, was a catharsis of licked-wounds, not to mention the sting of raw and recent personal failure, then Positive Songs For Negative People is the sound of a man putting his show back on the road. As early as the album's second song, Get Better, Frank is fashioning a modus operandi for one whose flaws are not things of which he is necessarily ashamed.

"I've got no new tricks," he sings, "and I'm up on bricks, but, me, I'm a machine and I was built to last."

Here, the author is only partially correct – on album number six, Frank Turner > have new tricks. Positive Songs For Negative People may resonate with the clarity and purpose of a debut album, but the songs contained within are not the sound of a man attending his first ever rodeo.

Bookended by two acoustic tracks, Positive Songs… begins with The Angel Islington, a love letter to North London that suggests that even a man with more stamps on his passport than Alan Whicker still needs a neighbourhood – in this case, the artery that runs from Archway to the southernmost tip of Upper Street - he can call his own, and friends in this neighbourhood who primarily are interested not in what he does for a living, but for who he is as a man.

Just as remarkable, and easily just as moving, is the album's final track. A eulogy for a friend who took the awful decision to end his own life, Song For Josh takes as its subject a man who headed the security team at Washington DC's famous 9:30 Club. A perfectly judged, and expertly delivered, treatise in loss, love and regret, this moving composition is rendered yet more poignant for the fact that it was recorded live at the club at which Josh once worked, and with not just friends but also members of his family on hand to bear witness. As a testament to both the power of song, and the power of friendship, it is a thing of beauty to behold.

"We were passing through DC on tour not long after Josh had passed," recalls Frank on the decision to record the album's closing track in such a poignant setting. "I'd written the song and played it out a few times, but by now the idea of recording the song in Washington DC had began to germinate – so we made technical preparations. I only had one shot at it – I wouldn't have played the song twice at the show. I had slightly screwed up the trial version that we recorded at that night's soundcheck, so when it came time to perform it in front of an audience I was somewhat nervous. But in the end the Gods – or perhaps it was Josh – were smiling, and I played it the best that I ever have."

Elsewhere, the Sleeping Souls are on hand to buck and weave, to glide and soar, and sometimes just to smash it all to pieces. From songs that are by turns playful (Love Forty Down), wise in their contentment (Mittens), or else nothing less than matters of life and death (Demons, Out Of Breath), this is a collection that faces life's minor key moments with major key fortitude. As if this weren't quite enough, Frank Turner's sixth album also features a duet with Denver's Esmé Patterson, on the song Silent Key, with the singer from the Mile High City taking the part of Christa MacAuliffe, the primary school teacher turned astronaut who died in the Challenger space shuttle calamity of 1986.

The title Positive Songs For Negative People arrived as Frank Turner's answer to a friend's enquiry as to how he would best explain his music, and throughout this 12 song set the sense that he, and we, can overcome is overwhelming. In spite of – perhaps, even, > of - the many pitfalls and travails that litter this sparkling collection, the listener's day and mood is improved by the existence of this album.

"In some ways I feel like this record is my definitive statement, a summation of the first five records," says its creator.

Frank Turner is the author of five previous albums; they are Sleep Is For The Week, Love, Ire and Song, Poetry Of The Deed, England Keep My Bones and Tape Deck Heart. A Wessex Boy by inclination, these days his post is delivered to Holloway, North London. He intends to spend the next 18 months, and probably the rest of his life, on tour.


Discography:
Sleep Is For The Week (Jan 07),
Love Ire & Song (March 08),
The First Three Years (Dec 08) – a collection of singles, b-sides and rarities
Poetry Of The Deed (Sept 09)
England Keep My Bones (June 11)
The Second Three Years (Jan 12) – a second collection of single, b-sides and rarities
Tape Deck Heart (April 12).

Awards:
Kerrang! Spirit Of Independence – 2010
AIM Hardest Working Act – 2011
AIM Best Live Act – 2011
ASCAP Vanguard Award – 2012

Winner:
Celebrity Mastermind – January 2014 (specialist subject Iron Maiden)