Friday, November 4, 2011

"Alabama Pines" - New music video from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

"Alabama Pines" is the first cut on Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit's latest release Here We Rest; it's a song that sets the tone of the album, letting the listener know they're in for a little less rock-heavy experience than with the self-titled collection that came before, and are instead about to embark on a musical journey influenced more by the rapidly growing and distinctive sound of the Americana "movement." The change toward more acoustic arrangements seems natural and suits Isbell and the band quite well (the album does still maintain some heavier moments). One example is the beautiful fiddle line that eases it's way through "Alabama Pines" like a train gliding down a straightaway track. As a nice compliment to the song, the music video is testament to the blessings and struggles of road life, where at times one can feel like they're living the dream or at times feel like an isolated rambler.

Any music lover, especially one who likes to write about music, enjoys a good song about life on the road. Many of us are failed musicians ourselves, or simply smart enough to realize that we just don't got what it takes, namely a healthy dose of musical talent. So we get to live vicariously through our favorite artists and dream about both the good the and bad of life on rolling wheels -- living it up, drinking it up, pushing through the eventual piercing loneliness and isolation the road seems determined to drive you to, longing for the familiarity and comfort of home. "Alabama Pines" seems to speak to that feeling and captures it well.

The road can ultimately be great; after all, you're getting to share your music with people who (usually) want to hear it, people who pay money specifically so they can come see you play, either because you had a song or an album or multiple albums that made them think "thank God I'm not the only one" or made them feel...something. Alive, hopefully. But as the song says, sleeping in hotels without air conditioning, traveling for hours a day, the repetition of lonely Sunday afternoons where you "can't stand the pain of being by yourself without a little help" from some good liquor, probably tend to take their wear on person.

In the video Isbell is shown playing his guitar (and drinking) alone in a motel room, the one the narrator moves into at the beginning of the song for one reason or another: he got a job in a new town and hasn't found permanent residence yet, he likes the anonymity of staying at a place where people are always coming and going, or maybe he's running from home -- from a girl, from his youth, from the monotony -- only to find himself missing it like hell when he's gone. The motel room footage is combined with him driving the open highway in a classic convertible, smoking cigarettes, staring at a weary face in the mirror, and performing with the rest of the band at a hole-in-the-wall club. At one point a little girl gives him a drawing of herself as a stick figure smiling under a rainbow, surely a sign of the innocence that is lost as we become adults living in the "real world," but perhaps is also a way of saying we need to recapture a least a little bit of that innocence if we're going to make it, or at least remain hopeful about making it.

It's a great song and a great video. Potently matter of fact lyrics really bring the theme of isolation home: "No one gives a damn about the things I give a damn about" and "I needed that damn woman like a dream needs gasoline." It's a shame Isbell isn't more well-known as he has one of the best voices in music today, and he and the 400 Unit are crafting some mighty fine country songs full of heart and authenticity. I can almost smell those pines.

Side note: Isbell and the band are making their first national TV appearance on Letterman tonight. I'm sure they're glad for the exposure, as am I.

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