Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Deep Vibration
8 p.m. July 25 at The Dame, 367 E. Main. $10. (859) 231-7263. www.dameky.com.
He is, in every sense of the shopworn rock 'n' roll term, a road warrior.
For example, Alabama rocker Jason Isbell was playing a gig last Saturday "on top of a mountain in Utah." This weekend, Isbell and his tour-tested, meat-and-potatoes band, The 400 Unit, will be back in Lexington for their first performance at the relocated Dame.
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"Isn't that crazy?" Isbell muses via phone, having spent the afternoon driving through Wyoming.
Well, yes and no. A journey from Wyoming and Utah to Lexington certainly constitutes a frightening amount of road time. But criss-crossing the country is nothing new for Isbell. He did it for years as a member of Drive-By Truckers. Then he got tired of working in a musical democracy and started giving his own name and his own music top priority.
"You get more used to touring like this," Isbell said. "Maybe not completely. I don't necessarily think touring like this is natural. But I don't know if getting used to it makes it any easier or harder. In some ways, when you're not used to it, it's a little more fun. I actually like the traveling. It can be taxing. But it can be a lot easier than having a real job."
Much like his 2007 debut album, Sirens of the Ditch, Isbell's self-titled sophomore album is a joyride through the new musical South. Of course in Isbell's hands, such sounds resemble Southern music from the '60s more than the later boogie-blues amalgamation known as Southern rock.
In fact, Seven Mile Island, the lead-off tune to Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, winds multiple threads of dobro and steel guitar around a chant-style percussive groove. Later, Cigarettes and Wine simmers to the mood with a barroom meditation better suited to vintage R&B, with its colors of Rhodes-style electric piano, than to a more obvious country music canvas.
Such a scenario would seem to be a natural fit. Isbell grew up — and still lives — not far from one of the great '60s meccas of Southern soul music, Muscle Shoals, Ala. Isbell even recorded his new album at Alabama's Fame Studios, the same place where Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Duane Allman, King Curtis, Betty LaVette and others have cut astounding soul music over the decades.
But Isbell said Muscle Shoals remains more of a community inspiration than a specific musical influence when it comes to the records he makes with The 400 Unit.
"It's more the community than the products of that community," Isbell said. "It's more about the people who made the music than the music itself.
"Even though I'm a huge fan of what people would call soul music and a lot of the rock 'n' roll that came out of there, I probably got more from just getting to know the people that actually worked on those records," he said. "I still see those people a lot, and they definitely still motivate me to keep my standards high."
The Old 97s
9 p.m. July 24. Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd., Louisville. $15. (859) 502-584-8088. www.headlinerslouisville.com.
Americana rockers The Old 97s are back in the region Friday night. But unlike a decade ago, when the quartet played Lynagh's Music Club regularly, you will have to take a road trip to Louisville to catch the band. The Old 97s are touring behind last year's album, Blame It on Gravity. But two members, singer Rhett Miller and bassist Murry Hammond, have released new solo recordings and will open Friday's concert with brief sets of their own. Miller will serve heady pop fare from his self-titled third album, and Hammond will showcase folk/ spiritual tunes off of his recent I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm on My Way.
Al's Build the Stage benefit
9 p.m. Al's Bar, 601 N. Limestone. $5. (859) 309-2901.www.myspace.com/alsbarlexington.
If you enjoy the atmosphere at Al Bar's but have grown a little weary of twisting your neck like a whooping crane to see the band on a busy night, here is some great news. The bar is looking to increase, albeit slightly, the width and height of its modest stage to create more accommodating sight lines for performances. To help kick off the effort, Al's is holding a "Build the Stage" benefit Saturday with a triple bill of local heroes: pop stylist Matt Duncan, "skate punks" turned acoustic doo-wop and '50s-era rockers Randy Tuesday and the Two Two Tuesdays, and the garage/post-grunge quartet Latin Heat.
■ Get set for a whopper of a WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday. Guest No. 1 will be Cyril Neville, one fourth of the famed Neville Brothers. Although the Nevilles continue to tour the world with a welcoming brand of Crescent City funk, Cyril will be in town to promote a new solo album called Brand New Blues that is full of earthy, spiritually inclined grooves (I Found Joy, Shake Your Gumbo) and twilight blues (I'll Take Care of You, Slave Driver).
Also on hand for Monday's taping will be dobro dynamo Rob Ickes, who will step away for an evening from his role as the resonator guitarist for bluegrass fave Blue Highway to show off music from an extraordinary new solo album called Road Song. That the record is named after a Wes Montgomery tune tells you where this immensely industrious player is coming from. And that's still not all: Ickes is bringing pianist Michael Alvey and Road Song's featured vocalist, Robinella, with him. Robinella, a veteran of several performances at The Dame, is best described as a genre-busting cross between Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton. (7 p.m. $10. (859) 252-8888 for reservations. www.woodsongs.com.)
Ickes will detail Road Song for us in Sunday's Arts and Life section.
■ Last summer, the Outside the Spotlight Series used the then-brand spanking new Morris Book Shop, 408 Southland Drive, as one of its few performance venues of the year for a solo concert by Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. The store recently celebrated its first anniversary and, lo and behold, it is set to host another OTS outing.
On Monday, the New York duo of guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone return. They have collaborated with esteemed jazz composer/ improviser Anthony Braxton, but the two remain active in a number of other group activities, including a duo setting that blends folk, chamber, jazz, vocal works and a healthy dose of free improvisation. The newest Halvorson/Pavone recording is Thin Air, which is part of the indie Thirsty Ear label's splendid Blue Series. (7 p.m. Free. (859) 276-0494. www.morrisbookshop.com.)