Bayou City

Shows of the Week: An Elite Songwriter and His Killer Backing Band

Jason Isbell (center) and the 400 Unit: Not your grandfather's Nashville Sound.
Jason Isbell (center) and the 400 Unit: Not your grandfather's Nashville Sound. Photo by Danny Clinch/Courtesy of All Eyes Media
Revention Music Center, July 18
Six albums deep into Jason Isbell’s solo career, his peers and critics alike are running out of positive superlatives to describe his music. The raw tools were already there when he was penning songs like “Outfit” and “Goddamn Lonely Love” as a member of the Drive-By Truckers; the maturity and sense of his rightful place in the world (musically and otherwise) perhaps were not. In any case, new album The Nashville Sound (Thirty Tigers/Southeastern) should lay to rest for good any lingering doubts about Isbell’s rep as a once-in-a-generation talent, particularly as a songwriter. Besides tapping his able band the 400 Unit — often including Isbell’s wife, Texas-born fiddler Amanda Shires, who also opens Tuesday's show with her own band — to the full extent of their considerable aesthetic capabilities, together the album's ten songs constitute the compelling testimony of a family man of relatively recent vintage reckoning with his responsibilities as a husband, father, citizen, reformed addict and — certainly as far as the realm of roots-rock/Americana is concerned — bellwether. Such a task requires exceptionally broad shoulders, but Isbell emerges unbowed.

Heights Theater, July 20
Few songs have resonated with Texas music fans longer, or spread more musical goodwill to the world, than “London Homesick Blues.” Best known today for helping millions of TV viewers go home with the armadillo for decades as the Austin City Limits theme, “London” previously appeared as the final track of Jerry Jeff Walker’s epoch-defining progressive-country manifesto, 1973 live album Viva Terlingua! Its mythical origins — how not Walker but the song’s author, Gary P. Nunn, came to actually sing it that fateful night, as affirmed from the stage by bassist Bob Livingston — now lie at the heart of Nunn and Livingston’s two-man stage show dubbed “Songs and Stories of Texas.” Nunn went on to become one of Texas’s true honky-tonk princes, a familiar sight at the Hideout come rodeo time; Livingston has been an official cultural ambassador of the U.S. State Department for decades, and is probably best known for his work in Bastrop-meets-Bombay group Cowboys and Indians. Thursday, fans can only hope the two can remember, and are willing to share, even a fraction of what they’ve seen.

Revention Music Center, July 21
Cult followings are nothing new in hip-hop; at some point everyone has aligned with a crew, a rag-tag bunch of individuals with likeminded goals and ideals. Although no one has entertained a kerfuffle like the bands from the classic film The Warriors, Logic and his merry legion of followers can hold on to something — it was he who managed to earn a surprising No. 1 album earlier this year with Everybody, a dense, 70-minute sprawl that seemingly felt like an apology and a discussion of his life as a biracial rapper. It was a sharp detour from The Incredible True Story or even his Bobby Tarantino mixtape, in which his rapid-fire delivery and quick wit were the main talking points. Usually bubbly and on the nose with punchlines, these days Logic and emerging pop acts Alessia Cara and Khalid have an unlikely hit summer single in the literal call for help “1-800-273-8255," also the direct number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. With Joey Bada$$ and Big Lenbo. BRANDON CALDWELL

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, July 22
At this point, you should know what to expect when local rock station 94.5 The Buzz puts on one of its many music festivals in The Woodlands. If you’re in for such a thing, you’re all-in. And if it’s not your thing, “outright disgust” might be an apt term. Personally, there’s something to festivals like Buzzfest and the Bud Light Weenie Roast. They provide mainstream bands like Chevelle, Blue October and 10 Years, bands that — contrary to many naysayers — have actually put out some quality music over the years. Blue October always has a great live show, and Chevelle has an underrated catalog with tunes like “Shameful Metaphors” and “The Red.” So brave the heat and have a little fun. CLINT HALE

House of Blues, July 23
The number of producers/DJs who can replicate or even contend with the career of Josh Davis, better known as DJ Shadow, are rather slim. DJ Quik and Dr. Dre are cut from the same Compton cloth, but their production styles are wholly different. A few New York- and Atlanta-based turntable experimenters can tug at Shadow's cape as well, but few can actually fly with him. Since 1996's groundbreaking Endtroducing…, Shadow has kept himself ahead of the pack in many areas, and his latest feat only adds to his legacy. The Mountain Has Fallen, a short and sweet 4-track EP released at the beginning of July, features big-name guests Nas and Danny Brown and confirms that Shadow is firmly in control of his own life, even willing to step away from a major-label deal in order to produce and create his signature style of electro-funk hip-hop. BRANDON CALDWELL

Heights Theater, July 23
Matthew Sweet’s calling card is probably the power-pop force of nature that was his 1992 hit “Girlfriend,” but over the years he’s also distinguished himself by keeping some pretty good company: ace NYC guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd (the “Girlfriend” years); Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles (the decade-combing Under the Covers series); and even, after a fashion, noted painter Margaret Keane of Big Eyes fame (Sweet is reportedly one of the country’s foremost authorities on her work, and consulted on Tim Burton’s 2014 film). For his latest album, last month’s reliably eclectic Tomorrow Forever (Honeycomb Hideout/RED Distribution), Sweet holed up in his Omaha home studio — he recently relocated back to his native Nebraska — and patched together his bandmates’ parts largely via email, relying on his fans to foot the bill via Kickstarter and rewarding them with an album that’s as sharp and tuneful as anything he’s ever done. With Tommy Keene.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray