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Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s ‘Live From the Ryman’

A document of the trailblazing singer-songwriter’s run at country music’s Mother Church

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit in concert at the Ryman Auditorium

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit in concert at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Oct. 9, 2017

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These recordings from Isbell’s recent run at country music’s Mother Church add up to a kind of live greatest-hits, a collection wrought from exacting attention to writing craft and the sort of soul-searching that couldn’t have always been comfortable.

Sure, it’d be nice to have included “Decoration Day,” his signature song for Drive-By Truckers, about revenge and the intractability of inherited hate, a topic that certainly has plenty of current resonance. Otherwise, these are Isbell’s most potent songs to date, to a one, including the cancer narrative “Elephant,” the higher-power meditation “24 Frames,” the love song-sobriety pledge “Cover Me Up,” and gems from his triumphant 2016 The Nashville Sound. The 400 Unit also get to shine  — the extended tradeoffs between guitars and Amanda Shires cutlass fiddle on “Last of My Kind” is especially sweet. But everything and everyone serves the songs, fittingly –easily among the finest of the past decade, in any genre.

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