Artists / Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Jason Isbell Continues Residency at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

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(Pictured L to R): The 400 Unit’s Jimbo Hart and Chad Gamble, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Peter Cooper, the 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, the 400 Unit’s Derry deBorja, and NS2 CEO Darin Lashinsky (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

 

Earlier this week critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Isbell continued his residency at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum. The second of three intimate and unique performances hosted in the museum’s CMA Theater featured an acoustic set with Isbell’s band the 400 Unit. Amanda Shires returned Tuesday night as a member of the 400 Unit, joining band members Kerry deBorja on piano, organ, and accordion; Chad Gamble on drums; Jimbo Hart on electric bass; and Sadler Vaden on acoustic guitar.  Isbell will conclude his sold-out residency on Dec. 19, at 7 p.m., with an evening of surprise special guests.

Second show highlights included:  “Speed Trap Town” From Isbell’s 2015 album, Something More Than Free, “Speed Trap Town” displays the songwriter’s ability to create dramatic narratives populated by distinctive characters. The song’s protagonist struggles through another routine day in the small town where he was born. In a few telling phrases, Isbell presents the man’s internal dilemma while he moves through familiar scenes, punctuated by references to a difficult relationship with his dying father.

Reminiscent of songs from Bruce Springsteen’s stark album Nebraska, “Speed Trap Town” casts a hushed tone, with Isbell playing hard-edged down strokes on guitar atop a moody bed of bass notes. As the song inches toward a dramatic epiphany, an instrumental break featuring Vaden’s acoustic slide guitar heightens the tension, just before Isbell portrays the man’s impulsive decision to escape the town in search of a better life.

“Outfit” – Isbell wrote “Outfit” at age twenty-four, making it one of the oldest songs in his recorded repertoire. Among his first original contributions as a member of the highly regarded Alabama country-rock band Drive By Truckers, “Outfit” proved that Isbell could create songs as tightly written and authoritative as those by the band’s senior front men, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.

Tuesday night, the 400 Unit’s quieter version of “Outfit” still provided room for the band to add punch, especially from drummer Gamble and guitarist Vaden.

“Cover Me Up” – From Isbell’s 2013 album, Southeastern, “Cover Me Up” was the Americana Music Association’s Song of the Year in 2014 and helped broaden Isbell’s fan base. A love song to his wife, “Cover Me Up” references Isbell’s decision to embrace sobriety after years of alcohol and drug abuse. The song’s emotional chorus gained power from the booming crescendos added by the 400 Unit at just the right moments.

The previous week, Isbell’s duet version with Shires had underscored how her presence in his life had inspired him to clear his head and clean up his life. The band’s version placed greater emphasis on the inner strength required for Isbell to change his habits—and the spiritual breakthrough that came with his sobriety.

Isbell has won Grammys for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song. The Americana Music Association named him Artist of the Year in 2015 and has awarded him Album of the Year two times and Song of the Year honors three times. The Alabama native has recorded six albums under his own name and with his band, the 400 Unit. His latest, The Nashville Sound, is nominated for two Grammys, Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song (“If We Were Vampires”), and was nominated for Album of the Year at this year’s CMA Awards.

Established in 2003, the museum’s artist-in-residence program honors a musical master who can be credited with contributing a large and significant body of work to the canon of American popular music. The artist-in-residence is invited to use the museum’s performance venues to create unique musical experiences. Isbell joins a prestigious group of past honorees that includes Cowboy Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, Connie Smith, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson and 2015 artist-in-residence Rosanne Cash.

The museum’s 2017 Artist-in-Residence series is supported by Carter Vintage Guitars. To learn more about the museum’s artist-in-residence program, visit countrymusichalloffame.org.

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