Will Hoge, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Dawn Landes
The Music Mill, 3720 E. 82nd St.
Saturday, Feb. 9, 8:30 p.m., $12, 18+
Get ready for a flood of Mississippi Valley rock when Jason Isbell and Will Hoge bring their respective bands to the Music Mill on Saturday night.
Isbell and Hoge are co-headlining in support of albums released in the latter half of 2007: Hoge’s Draw the Curtains and Isbell’s Sirens of the Ditch. Their special guest is quirky country-rock songwriter Dawn Landes.
Isbell was barely of drinking age when he joined the Drive-By Truckers, the smartest Southern rock band since the Allman Brothers and hometown heroes in his native Muscle Shoals, Ala. Though half a generation younger than the Truckers’ other two singer-songwriter-guitarists, he immediately distinguished himself with his blazing fretwork and his literate, gothic storytelling, including the title track on the acclaimed 2003 album Decoration Day.
“I was a creative writing major in college,” says Isbell, who’s the type who takes notes on everyday life. “You can get your inspiration from pretty much anything if you pay close enough attention.”
But after six years, three albums and countless shows, life in the band apparently grew restrictive. Early last year, in short order, Isbell left the group, then divorced from wife Shonna Tucker, who had become the Truckers’ bass player. By that time, he had amassed enough of his own material to promptly release Sirens, his solo debut on New West Records. And he was already assembling his band, the 400 Unit, to take it on the road.
“It wasn’t really starting over from scratch for me,” he admits. “I had quite a bit of a head start.”
Recorded with help from his then-bandmates at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals — once the studio home of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin — the album showcases Isbell as a quadruple threat on vocals, guitar, keyboards and pen. The songs cover a lot of ground stylistically, with arrangements full of soul but stacked with pop hooks. There’s a bit less guitar on the record, a bit more piano and organ; a little less Faulkner and a little more Mellencamp than on his work with the Truckers.
The pensive moments include the standout track “Dress Blues,” a country waltz about a high school classmate’s death in Iraq. It tends to generate a response from audiences, and Neil Young was sufficiently moved to post it on his Web site.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of people pay attention to that song,” says Isbell, who turned 29 on Feb. 1. “It’s not a protest song. It’s really just a story.”
Isbell and the 400 Unit have a live EP scheduled for release this month and will start work on a new album this summer.
As for Hoge, Draw the Curtains is his fourth studio effort and first release on Rykodisc, following an earlier dalliance with Atlantic that failed to take off. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who keeps a home in Nashville but sings like Memphis. He spends a lot of time on the road and has released several independent live discs in between studio albums.
The latest record is a wide-ranging collection of conventional but passionate and well-crafted rock with soul, blues and folk elements. The arrangements are flavored with organ, slide guitar, accordion, fiddle and the solid drumming of ex-Wilco member Ken Coomer, who also shares production credits.