Charleston was blessed with the voice of an angel at the Charleston Music Hall on March 24th. Jason Isbell with his band, 400 Unit, stopped by and ultimately captured the night. Sadler Vaden, the guitar slinging hero from the Low Country, who has played with the likes of Leslie and Drivin’ and Cryin’, made us proud with his blazing guitar skills and it was a joy to see the chemistry between the band. For this writer, the experience was ethereal, as I have never heard of nor had the opportunity to experience the “Isbellian Movement”, as it shall be called.
When the crowd at the Music Hall first saw Isbell step on the stage, everyone clamored to their feet in anticipation of what was to come. Song after song, the velocity of the crowd became more intense, and when the song “Cover Me Up” started, the roof came off the top of the Hall. This song is almost his coming out, as he proclaims his drinking days are over. It’s okay to think of him as “someone good” after having a bit of a wicked and rowdy past. As we now know, Jason did have a love for liquor, particularly Jack Daniels, and women in his days with the Drive By Truckers. He came to understand that for his health and for his marriage to his second wife, that he needed to focus more on sobriety. So far, he’s proven successful in this venture, and the entire Music Hall showed their support.
To say Jason is a great songwriter is an understatement. The prose used in his songs are incredibly heartrending renditions of moments that will leave you speechless, heartbroken, in tears, and unable to disregard the pain that this man has been through to deliver such messages. One particular song, Elephant, will leave you nearly catatonic when you realize to what the lyrics refer. It’s a story of a man and his girlfriend sitting in a bar sipping cocktails, making jokes, and they end up going home together. However, the elephant in the room is that she knows she is dying from cancer. He’s supporting her by singing to her, being there when she needs him, and smoking joints with her to help ease her pain. The lyrics conclude with “There’s one thing that’s real clear to me, no one dies with dignity.”
When one looks at Isbell’s history, it’s uncanny to believe he grew up with highly religious parents. His dad, a prominent member in the Pentecostal community, had Jason in the church as a small child. Upon his parents’ divorce, Jason was introduced to his mother’s church, The Church of Christ, which is a strict, almost utilitarian and no frills entity, which allowed no musical instruments during worship. Instruments are considered almost a crime in that church, and they concentrate on a human voices only style. However, Isbell’s grandfather handed him a mandolin at approximately 6 years old in order to keep a very active boy busy, which kick-started a lifetime of musical genius.
Influenced by old country music, Jason continued learning to play new instruments. Mandolin, guitar, trumpet, and even the French horn can be heard on his albums. He states, “It may take a little warming up, but I still play.” It’s comes to no surprise to note that while he didn’t actually graduate from college (only missing one class), he did come close to gaining a degree in English with a focus in creative writing. His poetic style and skill for songwriting has made him successful enough, that a return to college isn’t in his near future. He intends to continue making music, creating more beautifully intoxicating ballads, and maintaining a sober future. For this writer, I am proud to be a convert. This is a true instance of once you hear it, you can’t “unhear” it and pretend it didn’t happen. Thank you, Jason Isbell, for a great experience.
Devin Grant’s love for live music began back in 1982 when he won tickets off a local radio station to see Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Had that show been anything other than epic, he would probably be an accountant, or perhaps a podiatrist. Since that fateful day Devin has attended hundreds of live shows. Once he figured out that he could get free tickets in return for writing about the shows, music journalism seemed a logical choice. Devin’s work has appeared in Charleston’s Free Times, The Charleston City Paper, The Post & Courier, Charleston Magazine, and No Depression. He has interviewed the likes of Mike Watt, The Rev. Al Green, Tori Amos, Mike Doughty, Warren Haynes, and Loretta Lynn. He has photographed hundreds of bands, including The Police, My Morning Jacket, The Eagles, Willie Nelson, White Stripes, and Taylor Swift.