Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Amanda Petrusich

By Amanda Petrusich

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit

Jason Isbell
A Drive-By Trucker steps off to the side of the road, gets contemplative

Jason Isbell logged nearly six years as a guitarist and songwriter for the Drive-By Truckers — in late 2001, he stepped in to replace Rob Malone, and in 2007, he stepped out to front his own band. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Isbell's second release since going solo, is crammed with all the thick, steamrolling guitar-rock you'd expect from a former Trucker. But where Isbell's old band consistently indulged (self-consciously, at times) in brash, Skynyrd-approved southern traditions — face-crumpling electric riffs, crushed cans of domestic beer, long, gnarly hair flapping in the Alabama breeze — Isbell is emblematic of a gentler, more thoughtful Dixie: Despite all the riffage, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit feels more like a folk record at heart. "Soldiers Get Strange" is about as concise of an explanation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder we're likely to see ("It ain't the liquor that burns in your mouth / Nothing around here's changed / It's just that a soldier gets strange"), while the slow, cloudy "Cigarettes and Wine" feels like a cleaned-up Tom Waits song. Isbell might still be at the southern-rock bonfire, but now he's the guy standing off to the side, alone, smoking, leaning on a truck, and taking it all in.