Archives for category: Brent Mason

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Mercy Lounge – Photo/ Brad Hardisty

Thursday night would mark three years since the first time I saw Jason Isbell (former Drive-By Truckers) and his then “new” band, The 400 Unit in 2009.  Jason was at Mercy Lounge last night at what he called his first “hometown” gig, I might be wrong, but, I think he said since he moved here.

Whether or not that is correct, Jason was playing a Nashville “insider” guitar, a session guy’s new secret weapon, a Duesenberg Gold Top with the futuristic looking German engineered vibrato arm. The retro looking euro-high tech guitars were first popularized by Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) but are making their way into Nashville via Rock Block Guitars in a big way.

Jason has always been known for tasty guitar licks, but, he has really developed some deft country licks without going pure Brent Mason. It still has that Muscle Shoals “where Soul meets Country thang” going on.

I was excited to see where he was at since hearing his new project back in 2009. Back then, it was like he was excited to kind of graft in the family tree of Muscle Shoals legends with something akin to The Band or The Heartbreakers (Tom Petty not Johnny Thunders) but now, three albums in and four years on the road, The 400 Unit (named after the former Psychiatric Ward at Florence, Alabama’s Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital) is a crackerjack five piece band, tight and lucid like the heir apparent to The Decoys, that features classic Muscle Shoals players, David Hood, Scott Boyer, Kelvin Holly and sometimes even Spooner Oldham on keys.

Jason has put a lot of weight on his shoulders by putting himself squarely in the middle of a heavy tradition with writers and players like Eddie Hinton, Dan Penn and Donnie Fritts. I have to say it is working out much better than the first time I heard him.  The set was great, the tone, the crowd and the band. I’m glad that he is doing what he is doing. He has refined the dynamics and is now digging a little deeper than the Gibson Les Paul into a Fender thing.

In fact, he pulled a 1970’s era classic Muscle Shoals tune out of his hat as well as a little “Stone Free” on the bridge of the last song before the encores. There was even an ounce of continuity or deja vu for me between that 2009 set at The State Room in Salt Lake City and the one in Nashville the other night.

Justin Townes Earle, The State Room, Salt Lake City, 2009 – Photo / Brad Hardisty

Justin Townes Earle opened for Jason Isbell back on that tour as he was taking off with The Good Life   then Jason Isbell played on Justin’s Harlem River Blues and  Justin was their last night for Jason’s set just catching it from the back.  It’s hard to miss Justin, he’s a tall presence, back then, he had a little Hank Williams style going on, now, it was an overcoat and fedora flair.

Hey, but, let’s get back to Jason. The Country music business is going about creating their own brand of country while there is this parallel universe where most of the Country Artists out of Texas, as well as newcomers, the august, and independent folks like Adam Hood and Jason Isbell pack them in when they come to Nashville.

Jason is some country, some soul and some heart wrenching lyrics, in reality, it’s all about Alabama, with a nod to Hank Williams-style sad lyrics, Duane Allman style ( Jason rocked on this, sometimes with a slide on two different fingers)slide guitar and a country boy from Greenhill, Alabama telling life stories that makes this worth listening too.  He has some solid fans in Nashville.

Dead Fingers, Mercy Lounge, 2012 – Photo / Brad Hardisty

Openers, Dead Fingers, Taylor Hollingsworth and Kate Taylor from Birmingham, Alabama got the invite and as Taylor said, “Alabama, represent!” Taylor has some of his own style going on, incorporating some Mississippi Hill Country Blues and rawhide Country into some Indie folk goings on.

Kate sang probably the strongest set I have heard her do so far; a real standout and an accomplishment at six months pregnant.  Kate has a great mix of Emmylou Harris and sixties vibe queens like Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane of Spank & Our Gang somewhere in that voce bella.

Dead Fingers were just at The Basement two weeks ago. Nashville is looking forward to hearing some more tracks in the future. You could say they are Birmingham’s Civil Wars, but, that would put them too much into a box after all the true Mississippi connections Taylor has made as well as his work with Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band.

Taylor’s slide playing was a standout last night. One of the fun things about Taylor’s playing is when you know his songs, you know when he is experimenting or seeing if the band will go wherever he wanders off too. He didn’t too much of that last night, but, he still looked like he was having fun and there were plenty of Nashvillians and probably some Bowling Green patrons wandering south for the night in the audience when they went on at 9 PM. 

Great Alabama-centric night at Mercy Lounge!

- Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

Tommy Dalton could very well be the next Nashville Graduating class’ Jeffrey Steele.  Following “Damn Jeans” endorsement deal with True Religion Jeans, Tommy continues to grow both directions as a Songwriter co-writing new material with Anne Marie Boskovitch and other up and comers as well as the ability to front a band and rock the house.

Tommy had a full band last night for The Billy Block Show at The Rutledge sharing the bill with 80’s teen sensation, Tiffany, who has been spending some time in Nashville recording new material at Yackland Studios. Just like Keith Urban and Elvis, there were girls up front who knew the words to all of his songs even though they may have just heard “Something To Die For” at local showcases for the most part.

Tommy Dalton had a tight band featuring Eric Seals’ Tommy Lee flare, stick twirling and skin pounding under The Billy Block Show banner. I was surprised when Tommy announced that the band had only practiced that morning.

Only in Nashville, like Bob Dylan found out when he recorded Blonde on Blonde, can you find such passionate playing with musicians who get it almost as fast as you can think it.

Okay so why can I say he could be the next Jeffrey Steele? I haven’t met anybody who wouldn’t like to co-write with him whether an upbeat piece or a ballad. Tommy’s songwriting chops have been doubling every year. I met Tommy when he came down from the North Country in 2008 when he played an open mic night at French Quarter Café. He had the charisma and, okay, magnetism, it really didn’t matter that a lot of the structure at that time spoke “Goo Goo Dolls”; it was the potential at that point.

Jeffrey Steele with Tommy

He is one of those guys that you want to see succeed and his willingness to develop both on stage and with a guitar and a piece of paper that has got long-timers like Brent Mason behind him.

There will be those that prefer to see Tommy do his own songs while musicians like Travis Wilbourn (T. Swift, Hello Kelly) say they know him mainly as a songwriter. I don’t know anybody else in town, give or take another year or two, who has the potential to follow in Jeffrey Steele’s footsteps as a great performer fronting a full band as well as being a great Songwriter.

Tommy has been here since 2008 and every year he increases his ability times ten. I met Jeffrey Steele back in 2008 after a sold out gig at 3rd and Lindsley. He said “Brad, it took me eight years before I got my first cut but after that it just kept going. Let me know how you’re doing”.

Tommy Dalton has been here for three. I think by the time year five comes around he will be part of Country Music’s new class of Writers and Performers.

 – Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

I am not going to let dust settle on this one; The August with Jacky Dustin is a force to be reckoned with. I know some of you Industry types on Music Row check this site. Peel open The August’ new CD, Dear Chicago Love Nashville! Jacky is where country should be at with her Tammy Wynette meets Tina Turner twang soul vocals, she is original and should be the voice of Country today.

The August not only went through their eclectic mix of country meets the windy city with tracks “We Write our Songs’ to “Big Wheels” but went places that maybe only Elizabeth Cook might go on “Love Me Like A Stranger”. Strange brew indeed.

The audience was a demographic statistician’s nightmare, because their audience cannot be pegged. Everybody was there to hear a different angle of the Nashville Machine’s voice of tomorrow. I like to be right. Jacky should be light years from Douglas Corner Café.

She is not an auto-tuned twangster; she is the real deal with incredible strength, presence and drive.

Not to be outdone, Wojtek Krupka, on Bass at the gig, played an even more important role on the CD, handling background vocals like Michael Anthony on Van Halen’s best, a real key to the group sound.

The August brings a little Funk, Blues and Rock and Roll to the tight small band ala Martina McBride and The Ride.  When you throw two covers into the mix like “Never Been to Spain” and the Kris Kristofferson penned “Me and Bobby McGhee” and you own it on your own terms and not Pearl’s pedigree, there is something in the way she moves.

I didn’t note who was playing guitar, as there were three guitarists outside the band on the album and none were in the group picture on the CD. Let’s just say he was Telecasterin’ through a Dr. Z but was definitely more Mike Campbell then Brent Mason.

This is a band to watch. A new Outlaw Country. This is not Texas Charts or Nashville West, this is The Nashville Windy City Sound. I’m a believer. It is easy to be jaded in Music City with so many girls moving here all the time that are really good.

It would be easy to dismiss the fact that this was a club gig, but truth be told, if Jacky and The August were out opening for Gretchen Wilson, Jamey Johnson or The Rolling Stones a lot more people would know their Chicago meets American roots sound.

- Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

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