Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Opening: William Tyler. 7:30 p.m. April 21 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Drive at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. Sold out. 859-622-7469. Ekucenter.com, Jasonisbell.com.
Has it really been a decade since Jason Isbell introduced himself to Lexington as a solo artist? Sure, his local showing goes back further, to club dates with Drive-By Truckers. But the Lexington advancement of Isbell, the literate and rocking Southern songsmith, began with an afternoon in-store performance at CD Central in October 2007 and an immensely electric showing that evening at the defunct Dame on East Main.
Since then, we have seen Isbell perform in numerous regional venues as his reputation grew as one of the most insightful song stylists of his generation.
There have been club shows that took him from the Dame to Buster’s downtown (now the Manchester Music Hall on Manchester). There was an unannounced showing alongside his wife, Amanda Shires, a part-time member of his 400 Unit band, at the Singletary Center for the Arts for a June 2015 performance by John Prine (where they opened and later joined the headliner). That October, Isbell finally hit the big house, opening a Rupp Arena show for the Avett Brothers and filling every corner of the cavernous hall with the Americana reflection of songs including “24 Frames” and “Palmetto Rose” (from 2015’s Grammy-winning album “Something More Than Free”) and more combustible and rocking works that included “Super 8” (from 2013’s exemplary “Southeastern”) and “Never Gonna Change” (a 2004 war-horse tune from his days with the Truckers).
On Friday night, at long last, we have Isbell back for a show of his own, at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The downside is that if you don’t already have tickets, you’re out of luck. The performance has been sold out for weeks.
The concert will preface the release of a new Isbell record in June, the Dave Cobb-produced “The Nashville Sound.” Don’t let the title fool you, though. The record is said to be a return to the more band-oriented rock ’n’ roll of earlier Isbell works, including 2009’s “Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit” and 2011’s “Here We Rest.” Entertainment Weekly’s website is offering a preview listen to one of the new album’s tunes, “Hope the High Road.”
For those with tickets, plan on going early. The concert will feature the extraordinary William Tyler as the opening act. A guitar stylist in the vein of Americana primitive artists Leo Kottke and John Fahey, Tyler creates a tapestry of folk and pastoral inspirations that results in a sound both technically dazzling and powerfully emotive in its unassuming indie appeal. He was one of the highlight performers (and for many, including myself, discoveries) at the 2012 Boomslang Festival, when he opened a Kentucky Theatre show by Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Magnum.
Tyler’s newest album, “Modern Country,” released last year, sports a modest but impressive guest list that includes Wilco drummer and University of Kentucky alumnus Glenn Kotche.
Record Store Day
Speaking of happenings reaching the decade mark, Record Store Day is now 10 years old. Its purpose remains unchanged, though: to raise awareness of the cultural (and, yes, retail) importance of the vanishing enterprise known as the local record shop. Its lure to have you patronize such businesses remains the same: that stores across the country will be stocked Saturday with limited-edition releases — by the likes of Paul McCartney, Drive-By Truckers, The Flaming Lips and dozens of others — geared to the day itself.
One specially timely Record Store Day treat comes, quite coincidentally, from Jason Isbell. It’s a vinyl-only six-song EP called “Live from Welcome to 1979.” True to its title, the recording was cut live directly to acetate in the Nashville studio Welcome to 1979, and it sports five cover tunes (the Rolling Stones rockers “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Sway,” John Prine’s “Storm Windows,” Candi Staton’s “Heart on a String” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” along with a version of the vintage Isbell gem “Never Gonna Change.”
Three local stores are taking part in Record Store Day, although CD Central will augment the fun will with a full afternoon of free live music featuring sets by Grayson Jenkins (noon), Test Passenger (1 p.m.), The DeBraun Thomas Trio (2 p.m.) and a headlining set by the longstanding cowpunk journeymen of Nine Pound Hammer (3 p.m).
For more information on Record Store Day and all the vinyl goodies that go with it, go to Recordstoreday.com.