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  • Checking the Bucket List

    Earlier this year, my wife and I booked a bucket list trip to see Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at the Ryman Auditorium this Friday. I’ve always wanted to see a show there and Isbell is one of our favorite musicians. Perfect. Check. Especially when I won the lottery to buy two tickets in the front row of the mezzanine.

    I didn’t think much about the fact the World Series would be going on at the same time. After all, the Nationals were struggling to reach .500, let alone make a bid for the postseason glory that had so agonizingly eluded them.

    I thought I had a better shot of seeing a World Series game sometime in my native Houston than ever seeing the Nats play one in our backyard.

    When the opportunity came for the all-in postseason strip of Nationals tickets, we hesitated. Eventually, we bought them, in part because we knew any unused tickets will be credited toward the 20-game package we get each year.

    You know the rest.

    This does have a happy ending. We are giving the game 3 tickets to Emma, cutting our trip to Nashville short, and getting back in time for games 4 and 5. The amount of money we were set to spend for the extra nights in the hotel almost covered the change fees for the flights.

    So I get to knock out multiple bucket list items in the same weekend, and with my favorite baseball teams playing each other to boot. Not bad at all...

    •••••••

    “Who are you rooting for?” is a question I’ve been asked all week. (After a while, it starts to sound like someone is asking me who I voted for, although that answer should be far more obvious.)

    If I have to pick, I’m going with the Nationals. They are a remarkable team with a remarkable story. As much as I love the Astros, they won in 2017 with a season that had a similar feel to this year’s Nats. And the Nationals remain the flawed but feisty underdog, just as they have been throughout the regular season and playoffs.

    That said, the logical part of my otherwise illogical brain says it’s the Astros in 6. That might not be the case, but my hope is we can at least get a series that lives up to the billing of a “fall classic.”

  • Concerts: Innings Festival

    Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder made waves in music circles when he performed "Maybe It's Time" from Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" during a solo concert at the Innings Festival in Tempe, Ariz. And my wife and I were there to witness it.

    I shot the entire day Sunday and have written a review as well for Americana Highways, the website I contribute to regularly. Another way to read my essay/review of the show — and why Vedder's performance of the Jason Isbell-written song means so much to Jill and me — is by visiting my Music: Live & Otherwise blog.

  • 'There's No Leaving New York'

    Photos from There's No Leaving New York, a two-day festival featuring Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit and headlined by The National. To see my review, go to my Music: Live & Otherwise blog. To see more photos, go to my  Concert Photography page here.

  • Isbell at Country Music Hall of Fame

    With Jill on another adventure, seeing Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires perform at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Isbell, one of my favorite performers, was selected as this year's Artist-in-Residence.

  • Grammy Randoms

    Five random thoughts from a music fan about last night’s Grammy Awards:

    • Congratulations to all of the winners, but especially to Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton; both were very deserving. Their CDs have been on heavy rotation since their release, although it was reviews that pushed me toward Stapleton’s “Traveller.”

    • It was a pleasure to see Stapleton perform with Bonnie Raitt, and the performance by Alabama Shakes was stunning. They also won big this year, further validation for a long-time fan.

    • After Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl, I was anxious to see what she would do in her tribute to David Bowie, but found myself somewhat underwhelmed. The first half seemed like karaoke, as if she was auditioning for a “Mamma Mia” revival. She did rebound at the end with Fame, Let’s Dance, and Heroes, though.

    • Jack Sparrow got eaten by Hollywood Vampires. At least Johnny Depp’s bands are better than most of his recent movies (“Black Mass” being the lone exception).

    • The “In Memorium” section made me think, “Damn, we’ve lost way too many this year. And it’s only February.”

  • Musical Word Plays

    A few thoughts on music from a 50-year-old white guy… (Photos are mine, too.)

    I’ve spent my life trying to explain to people why I enjoy the music I like, and (usually unsuccessfully) why they should, too.

    Leave it to Jason Isbell to explain it better than I could: “It’s punk, but it doesn’t sound like punk. It’s punk with different instruments and different songs.”

    Isbell then goes on to explain, “It’s people who are trying to do the right thing. When it’s at it’s best, it’s people trying to make music because they love music, and they’re not trying to swindle anybody, they’re not trying to get rich and famous immediately, they’re trying to make music that goes back to their roots, they’re trying to have some credibility, they’re trying to be authentic.”

    ••••••

    I recently saw Isbell at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally in Washington, D.C., where he was on the bill with Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Steven Tyler, the Goo-Goo Dolls, and The Fray, among others. As a freelancer, I received a press pass to take pictures at the event, but my primary interest was seeing Isbell live for the first time.

    All afternoon, I found myself telling people about Isbell’s music. Despite critical acclaim, especially for his last two albums, and growing awareness, many in the crowd didn’t know who he was.

    “Just listen,” I said. “Then you’ll know.”

    I turned around to look at the crowd during “Cover Me Up.”

    They knew.

    ••••••

    I wish I could be a music critic or a concert photographer. I love capturing live events and think I’m pretty decent at it, but I don’t think I’d make a good critic. I know what I like, what I don’t, and even though I’m open to anything that catches my ear, I’m reasonably sure my opinions wouldn’t gibe with much of what passes for criticism these days.

    That said, here are some things I’ve heard recently that I’ve enjoyed and put into heavy rotation:

    Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats: “SOB”

    The best, most unrepentant song I’ve heard since “Rehab.” It brings a smile to my face everytime I hear it, and the video is terrific. Their self-titled album gives me the same warm feeling that “St. Paul and the Broken Bones” did last year.

    Tommy Stinson: “Can’t Be Bothered”

    I’m a huge fan of The Replacements, but only recently have gotten into Stinson’s solo work. This is his latest, a single from a yet-to-be-delivered album, and it’s really good. It made me go back and revisit Bash & Pop’s “Friday Night is Killing Me,” the first Stinson solo effort and best album that came from The Replacements ashes. That is, until Paul Westerberg delivered “Mono.” 

    Keith Richards: “Crosseyed Heart”

    “Live at the Hollywood Palladium,” an out-of-print live album from 1988, remains in my rotation because it represents the best of what made the Stones great. And that, at least for me, is Richards. His new album is more of the same, which is plenty good.

    Dave and Phil Alvin: “Lost Time”

    The follow up to the brothers' “Common Ground” is better, more lived in, and always welcome, although I find myself yearning for an album by Dave and his Guilty Men lineup.

    Amy Helm: “Didn’t It Rain”

    On what is an admittedly male-centric list, the solo debut by Levon’s daughter more than holds its own. Terrific harmony, nice songwriting, and a couple of cuts that feature Helm’s late father on drums.

    Ryan Adams: “1989”

    Everyone it seems has an opinion on Adams’ track-by-track cover/reinterpretation of Taylor Swift’s multiplatinum album. No matter what you think about Swift, and I’m an admirer of her talent (although I could do without the rest), Adams’ effort ranks up there with his best and ballsiest work.

    William Harries Graham and the Painted Redstarts: “Foreign Fields”

    Damn, this is good, and Graham is at least 20 years younger than anyone on my current list. Jon Dee Graham’s son contributes an album that is nothing like his father’s work musically. And when it’s this good, who cares?

    ••••••

    An EP not on my earlier list but also worth mentioning is Glen Hansard’s tribute to Jason Molina, the Songs: Ohia and Magnetic Electric Co. singer/songwriter who died two years ago from alcohol-related complications at the age of 39.

    “It Was Triumph We Once Proposed: Songs of Jason Molina” is Hansard’s five-song tribute. It includes loyal covers of two of Molina’s best-received compositions, “Hold On Magnolia” and “Farewell Transmission,” either of which makes the entire EP worth owning. “Farewell Transmission” is especially melancholy and beautiful, and a reminder of how too many musicians leave us too soon.

    To see Molina perform “Farewell Transmission,” just click on the video below. (Song starts at the 1:20 mark)

    ••••••

    Great quote: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.” — Lady Gaga

    ••••••

    Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of The Replacements, and saw them twice on their all-too-brief (though highly entertaining) reunion. Still I couldn’t help but laugh after reading this comment recently: The Replacements and REM were the Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the fucked up.

    ••••••

    Great quote finale: From Jason Isbell, pretty much summing up my attitude toward writing about music in this or any other space — “I’m happy [for] anything that’s given me more of a home to do what I like to do.”

    ••••••