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Slow States

“It is veneer, rouge, aestheticism, art museums, new theaters, etc. that make America impotent. The good things are football, kindness, and jazz bands.” -George Santayana


Kevin’s Top 7 Albums of 2016

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 11:47:40 -0500

Car Seat Headrest / Teens of Denial No album was emailed to me more than this one, and it’s on every top 2016 list I’ve seen.  It deserves to be.  It hits that incredible sweet spot between something you know you’ve heard before and yet sounds very fresh.  There’s a lot of talk in music about “originality” but I’ve never though music was supposed to be original, it’s at its best when someone takes a tradition and moves it forward.  I’m still not sure what this is rooted in – the Strokes jump out as obvious, but there’s a lot more here I can’t nail down.  If you followed the Wilco project you know I’m a lyrics-first kind of guy, and this one is packed with really honest and raw couplets.  I love it.  I hope it holds up. Favorite song: (I really don’t know) Conor Oberst / RuminationsFINALLY!  There are very few albums I was more into at the time than 2002-2005 Bright Eyes; I still distinctly remember discovering him when I caught Waste of Paint performed live on PBS.  It was the last song of his set, I had no idea what I was listening too, but it was striking.  I would listen to new Oberst stuff after that and always found it incomplete, almost experimental…like a sound trying to evolve that didn’t really feel comfortable in its cloths.  It wasn’t bad or anything, but it lacked the raw power for me and always seemed slightly off.  This new album isn’t raw power, but it sounds like grown up Waste of Paint, which I’ve been waiting a decade for.Favorite song: Barbary Cost (Later)…I think, the album comes across like a performance and I’m not really interested in picking out the hits on this one. Shovels & Rope / Little Seeds They kept doing their thing in 2016.  I love these guys, and the music is moving forward just fast enough without getting too distant from the “simple” two-person show that makes them so special for me.  They also still kick ass live. Favorite song: The Last HawkThe Wood Brothers / Paradise The Wood Brothers make music traditionally but their sound is unreplicated for me.  It’s probably just the vocal sound and lyrics, the new stuff is instantly familiar and comforting.  They come across as incredible craftsmen in every song I’ve ever heard, even if they don’t bat 1.000 in the compelling songwriting department.  But there are plenty of good ones here and the album plays in completion very nicely. Favorite song: American HeartacheThe Lumineers / Cleopatra I’m not proud of really liking this one, but it’s good, and that says more about my watered-down folk & anti-folk roots than it does about this album.  They took forever to put out a second record and good for them, it’s really solid.  I’ll admit it’s fading on me as the year moves forward, but music doesn’t have to resonate with me forever for me to appreciate it, in fact some of what I’d call my most enjoyable albums don’t. Favorite song: Cleopatra (sorry not sorry)Hayes Carll / Lovers And Leavers Sad Hayes Carll is just fine with me.  The word “love” is in three song titles, which sets up for some potential issues but I didn’t notice anything egregious.  I don’t know why he’s so sad on this album – and he still doesn’t come out an apologize for “She Left Me For Jesus” from his ‘08 album, which I feel I’m owed – but it feels honest and I like that.  This is classic singer/songwriter stuff with a southern twang, the latter seems to be increasingly infiltrating my taste for some reason. Favorite song: Good While It Lasted, or maybe You Leave Alone The Felice Brothers / Life In The Dark I’m a huge sucker for the raucous, back from old time sound of these guys.  They’re are at their best when the underlying message is that they’re happy to be here, even as they tell folk stories that take the luster off life.  I’m not sure they’ll ever replicate t[...]

Slow States Wilco Project: The Top 25

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 13:11:12 -0400

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Well hi there!  You may remember us from such bold claims as “We’re going to rank every Wilco song ever” and “Don’t worry I’ll remember to renew the domain name.“

It turns out we aren’t the beasts of burden we claimed, of course, but that doesn’t mean we can’t limp this thing home:

1. Misunderstood [Patrick - 7; Chris - 5; Kevin - 6]
2. Theologians [Patrick - 11; Chris - 6; Kevin - 9]
3. Shot in the Arm [Patrick - 8; Chris - 2; Kevin - 18]
4. At Least That’s What You Said [Patrick - 18; Chris - 3; Kevin - 13]
5. I’m the Man Who Loves You [Patrick - 4; Chris - 21; Kevin - 10]
*6. Via Chicago [Patrick - 1; Chris - 16; Kevin - 26]
*7. Jesus, etc. [Patrick - 13; Chris - 1; Kevin - 32]
8. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart [Patrick - 3; Chris - 30; Kevin - 15]
9. Hummingbird [Patrick - 30; Chris - 8; Kevin - 14]
10. Muzzle of Bees [Patrick - 2; Chris - 11; Kevin - 44]
11. How to Fight Loneliness [Patrick - 15; Chris - 27; Kevin - 20]
12. Poor Places [Patrick - 26; Chris - 10; Kevin - 29]
13. Impossible Germany [Patrick - 10; Chris - 13; Kevin - 43]
14. The Lonely 1 [Patrick - 27; Chris - 38; Kevin - 2]
15. Summer Teeth [Patrick - 35; Chris - 7; Kevin - 28]
16. She’s a Jar [Patrick - 5; Chris - 19; Kevin - 50]
17. Heavy Metal Drummer [Patrick - 38; Chris - 34; Kevin - 8]
18. Company in my Back [Patrick - 17; Chris - 15; Kevin - 48]
19. One Wing [Patrick - 9; Chris - 29; Kevin - 57]
20. Forget the Flowers [Patrick - 71; Chris - 18; Kevin - 7]
21. I Must Be High [Patrick - 24; Chris - 56; Kevin - 19]
22. Passenger Side [Patrick - 14; Chris - 80; Kevin - 5]
23. Can’t Stand It [Patrick - 54; Chris - 31; Kevin - 17]
*24. Dreamer in My Dreams [Patrick - 78; Chris - 23; Kevin - 1]
25. Hell is Chrome [Patrick - 31; Chris - 53; Kevin - 23]

Our collective album scores looked something like this:

1. YHF
2. Summerteeth
4. Being There
5. SBS
6. AM
7. Wilco

I toed the AM line while Chris and Patrick both had YHF and Summerteeth as their ½ (but in different orders).  No single album was in all of our top 3.

Like Dreamer In My Dreams, we rambled a bit here, changed direction more than once, and even built in a long, hacking, fake ending to the whole thing.  

For all of our dedicated followers, we’d like to thank you all, for…

-Patrick, Chris & Kevin

I spent a lot of money on music today and it felt good

Sun, 24 Aug 2014 11:14:41 -0400

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I found John Fullbright’s 2012 album a couple of months ago and have been playing it more or less on repeat whenever I’m on rdio. This track shows his range, and it’s probably the best new-to-me song I’ve heard this year. He’s part of a really interesting Oklahoma scene that is putting out some good songs rooted in traditional blues/country. His new album is getting great press and shows a lot of the same: namely great songwriting in that Americana tradition.

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The Felice Brothers have a new album out that’s being heralded as their first “real” recording (American Songwriter claims the album before this was a quick and dirty ploy to fund a new and needed tour van). I’m partial to the rambunctiousness of their former stuff, but they can still write songs, and really it’s the phrasing these guys do that kills me.  They get me in this one with “I was chewing on a soda cracker / She was chewing on some chewing tobacco.”

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If you follow me on twitter you know I’m a little bit of a fan of Shovels & Rope. I just got the new double vinyl and it’s awesome. This is the opening track, and make sure to let it pick up before you stop playing. 

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(I was going to try to find a better recording, but interestingly I get the feeling this one was supposed to be captured this way.  If you’re a youtube quality snob check out this one.)

David Mayfield is from this really interesting musical family (the whole gang toured when he was younger, and his sister Jessica Lea Mayfield puts out greats songs). He’s riveting on stage. Despite his songwriting being mostly vulnerable long songs, his performance is somehow both song-serious and self-irreverent (check out the new t-shirt). Stranger isn’t out yet; I don’t preorder wihtout hesitation often but this one was easy.

Editor’s note: I wrote a post a while ago I can’t find about all the great tracks named “Ohio”, and I’m happy to report two of the albums above include tracks with that name. It’s apparently a great set of syllables when put to music.

On Bill O'Brien: Everybody Is A Winner!

Fri, 03 Jan 2014 00:02:00 -0500

Two nights ago, after reading #HotTake upon #HotterTake regarding Bill O'Brien – and no doubt contributing to the conflagration on Twitter – I began writing an extensive piece detailing the minefield O'Brien navigated during his two seasons at Penn State, and the complicated angles that shape our individual and collective views of his tenure and resignation.  Thankfully for all, I scrapped it.  We’ve been so far down the meta rabbit hole that a navel-gazing discussion of “what is a Paterno Person?” would righteously destroy us all. The simple reality is, O'Brien always wanted to be an NFL head coach.  After the 2011-12 NFL season, he drew mild interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars but never interviewed.  The man needed to show the NFL that he could handle the pressures and responsibilities of being a head coach, so he took on a job that practically nobody else wanted. We all remember Penn State’s situation when he took over.  For this discussion, it doesn’t matter how Penn State got there.  Bill O'Brien, the coach none of us wanted, said and did all the right things from day one, during a time when Penn State essentially had no leadership – and yes,  still doesn’t.Then, the sanctions hit.  O'Brien had to re-recruit every player on his own roster, while the program was hit with potentially crippling scholarship reductions.  He didn’t complain.  He did his job with the type of enthusiasm that had been lacking in Happy Valley for 15 years.   Penn State won eight of its last ten games that autumn, despite an in-house culture so toxic that the athletic director couldn’t show his face on the Penn State sideline without open revolt by the players.  O'Brien turned Matt McGloin into a wizard and even more miraculously, helped convert the national perception of Penn State football to something that people felt good about, and even felt sorry for.  Consider that for a moment.He was voted Coach of the Year by peers and media.  National Signing Day passed, with universally prized recruits agreeing to play at Penn State despite the draconian sanctions.   None of this was supposed to happen.  The NFL called again after the 2012 season, and O'Brien stayed.  He was rewarded with a vaguely sourced Sports Illustrated hit-piece about supposedly dangerous changes to the football medical staff, fed to unwitting SI patsy David Epstein by forces within Penn State who couldn’t stand to see any part of the program succeed without the imagined posthumous imprimatur of Joe Paterno. O'Brien famously said, when asked about his role in healing the hopelessly fractured Penn State community, “I’m not the unity coach.  I’m the football coach.”  He became the unity coach, anyway.  He came to Penn State to enhance his resume and left the program in infinitely better condition than how he found it.  The reputation of the program – and by association, the university – has largely been restored.  The strength and conditioning program was modernized, with Soloflex machines presumably shipped off to the local Curves.  Penn State football became known as innovative, something it hadn’t been in decades. Many are outraged that he told his players and recruits that he was staying at Penn State, to which I ask, what the hell was he supposed to tell them?  "Hey, five-star recruit, I might be taking the Texans job in two weeks!  Tell Urban Meyer I said what’s up when he calls you 30 seconds from now!“  Coaches say that they’re staying until they’re not, whether that coach knows he’s about to be fired or is voluntarily leaving for greener pastures.  College coaching breakups are never clean.  The entire sport is built on a constant cycle of salesmanship and eventually-empty promises.   I’m not sure what any Penn State fans think Bill O'Brien owes them.  Here we are, two years into the mos[...]

Slow States Wilco Project #26: Monday

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 20:08:39 -0500

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Votes: 17, 36, 56

Get me outa FLA

The first things that’s hard to get past here is: Oh, high 1996.

Not one loved Being There as much as RUTS, although it was still somehow only his third most liked album…which is all a very long way of saying he hated AM, but now we’re off topic.

Although off topic is probably okay, because I’m not sure what to add here other than this really should have been the song Wilco was jumping out of air planes and lip sinking to on the record label’s dime, because it’s just such good and honest 1990’s rock, with steady drum beat and a fully-backed up chorus to underline that fact.

Well, I cut class, in school yeah, now I know I made a mistake

So yeah, fifty-something.

Slow States Wilco Project #27: Kingpin

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 19:51:43 -0500

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Votes: 12, 46, 51

So the first thing I had to do in the review was look up something I never really cared or noticed before: a reference to somewhere called Pekin.  The complete list of Pekins are crowded with Slow States:

Pekin, Illinois
Pekin Township, Tazewell County, Illinois
Pekin, Indiana
Pekin, Iowa
Paducah, Kentucky, originally settled as Pekin
Pekin, Maryland
Pekin Township, Michigan
Pekin, New York, hamlet in town of Cambria, New York
Pekin, North Dakota

Unfortunately for us, some extensive google searching suggests it’s also probably just a town Tweedy drove through at some point and thought if when he needed a word to rhyme with kingpin.

And really what the hell is a kingpin other than a word to use in a song that needs lyrics in order to show off that drum beat and base line.  Musically the entire things is neat but not too neat, with just enough draw in the solo and snare snap to bring it all back home again. 

How can I, how can I give my love to you / when I don’t know what to do.

Slow States Wilco Project #28: Handshake Drugs

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 19:39:34 -0500

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Votes: 3, 41, 68

If you where here a minute ago you might remember the part of the previous review in which I explained that Patrick was cheating for giving “Ashes of American Flags” a six despite the 45 seconds of space ship samples at the end.

It turns out I don’t give a fuck about the rules either.  This one has three times the ridiculous outro (there’s even foreshadowing to the terribleness during the verses), with a much more obnoxious set of noises, and I gave it a three.  Since we’re being honest here I should probably admit I’ve never actually listened to this song the entire way through.

if I ever was myself / I wasn’t at night

Well it turns out I’m a sucker for the folk version of dropping the beat.  It almost happens 33 seconds in, and then reveals itself fully at the 54 second mark.  If we can’t get attached to a calming head nod, well what’s the point.

What seals the deal for me is the refrain:

Oh it’s okay for you to say 
What you want from me 
I believe that’s the only 
Way for me to be, exactly 
What you want me to be 

A well delivered passive-aggressive “get bent” is a hard thing not to fall in love with.

Slow States Wilco Project #29: Ashes of American Flags

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 19:23:45 -0500

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Votes: 6, 28, 78

I’m starting the song and starting this review at the same exact time, and even money says I finish before they do.  I’d like to quote the rules:

All songs must be completed; no fair moving “Less Than You Think” up the list by fast fowarding past the nine minutes of buzzing at the end.

Patrick gave this one a 6.  I would have if it ended at the five minute mark.  This thing is packed with Tweedy Top Five Lyrics:

I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck

All my lies are always wishes / I know I would die if I could come back new

and, really, every other line here.  

The problem is the 44 seconds of alien samples tacked onto an otherwise great song  That being said, two quick listens through two years later and I was wildly harsh here.  In hindsight I thing RUTS get this one correct – a six with Wilco’s favorite flavor of self sabotage, the extended outro.

Since Patrick doesn’t give a fuck about the rules we might as well all agree that he’s not entirely wrong here either.  If I love Dylan because he can ramble with imagery and poeticness for weeks at a time without sleeping, I love Wilco for being able to put a five minute song together with 20 words and just as resounding a message.  

I just spend 20 seconds bashing SBS, and part of what makes that feel so lame is the raw truth we get here in references to regret, lost causes, faded ideals and the honesty about the futile effort of finding meaning in modern American pop culture that sometimes feels like nothing but chic of historically inspirational art. 

And all the fallen leaves / filling up shopping bags

Slow States Wilco Project #30: Either Way

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 19:05:03 -0500

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Votes: 21, 40 , 54

The quintessential SBS song: pleasant, nice in tone, uplifting, full of devotion.  Even the solo around the two minute mark is wildly unoffensive.  It may or may not be sampled from some old Hawaiian jazz album or something.

It’s also not even entirely logical: everything has it’s plan / either way seems, I don’t know, is there a plan or are we embracing randomness here?  Unless either wayis referring to the fact that here is a plan, and Jeff is okay with one of the two possible ways he can envision it playing out.  Yeah, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just deep.

I voted this one a 54, by the way.

Wilco plays Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” at Solid...

Sat, 22 Jun 2013 12:27:04 -0400

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Wilco plays Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” at Solid Sound as part of an all-covers “stump the band” set apparently hosted by John Hodgman.  There is nothing wrong about anything in that sentence.

I'm Going To DelFest Tomorrow To Hear These 5 Songs

Wed, 22 May 2013 12:59:00 -0400

1. Spirit Family Reunion - Green Green Rocky Road

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2. Trampled By Turtles - Wait So Long

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3. Carolina Chocolate Drops - Hit ‘Em Up Style

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4. The Hackensaw Boys - Girl

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5. Anyone - Foggy Mountain Special

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Farms, ditches, bluegrass.  The best parts are 1979 hipsters...

Wed, 22 May 2013 10:21:43 -0400

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Farms, ditches, bluegrass.  The best parts are 1979 hipsters talking about the old time in full mustache.  I desperately want someone to make this again right now and show it to me in 30 years.

Slow States Wilco Project #31: Far, Far Away

Tue, 21 May 2013 11:44:58 -0400

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A perfectly good Wilco love song.  In that sense it’s not particularly notable, but the important part is to pay attention to the background, which is first-class studio work, on an album that had a self-imposed one day per song rule none the less.

The alt-country tone, drums, perfect guitar grit…that’s not even the noteworthy stuff.  The steel string that wanders around the entire song is both perfectly mixed and perfectly balanced.  If you’re not paying attention it’s simply hiding behind the piano.  But then they manage one more layer – a harmonica that also picks up and drifts off and, in a sense, is playing dueling banjos with the steels string.

It’s all fantastic, frankly.  This song should be ranked much higher.  It probably would be if it wasn’t sitting on such a great album.

Slow States Wilco Project #32: Sky Blue Sky

Tue, 21 May 2013 11:29:00 -0400

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This song managed a 32 ranking without actually getting a 32 or better score from any of us. Chalk this up the subconscious torpedoing of every song any of us likes by someone else.

This is a title track, and if a title track is at it best with I Walk The Line, or Highway 61 Revisited, I guess we call this the paramount moment in which Tweedy mellowed into middle age. He’s survived long enough to license a big chunk of this album into VW commercials and play the big stage at an entirely overdone 2007 Bonaroo (I know because I was there).

This song got in the 30s because it was too uneventful for any of us to even notice.

Slow States Wilco Project #33: Hotel Arizona

Sun, 19 May 2013 22:15:07 -0400

Yes, I rated this song fourth.  Shut up.

I’m a sucker for a song about the complex relationship between musician and fans, not to mention the complex relationship between self-aware musician and self.  Tweedy explored these themes often on Being There, including on “Hotel Arizona”.  

Is this a lyrical milestone?  Not even close.  However, the last two minutes of this song slay me, and I wish they’d last forever.  It’s the repetitive piano/keyboard, haunting organ, intensifying drums and guitar – all building to a solemn “One more worried whisper, right in my ear…”

Slow States Wilco Project #34: When You Wake Up Feeling Old

Sun, 19 May 2013 15:52:00 -0400

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I suppose it’s my turn to get back in the fray here – I’ll save the discussion of #33’s preposterous rating for Grovich – by stating that I am right between Kevin and Chris on rating this rather pleasant if unassuming ditty from Summerteeth.  "When You Wake Up Feeling Old" is sort of odd, in that it’s a simple concept in both lyrics and melody, and Tweedy does his best to stay out of the way of both, but it leaves verses that are strange and devoid of any apparent meaning (a fact that Tweedy impliedly acknowledges with his “Sing some strange verse/from some strange song of vines” line).

So the song doesn’t extend far past “Can you be where you want to be?” as the eternal question for anyone who has reached the stage in their life when the journey is dwindling.  The destination is what holds the promise at that moment.

So, yeah, decent song.

Slow States Wilco Project #35: Outtasight (Outta Mind)

Fri, 17 May 2013 12:28:04 -0400

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It’s hard to get past the video.

This was voted 25, 42, 53 – a further embodiment of Patrick and I taking contradictory angles on a song.

I’ll concede it’s not the most Wilco song Wilco ever put out. But it’s got an organ. It’s got “okay alright okay alright,” which is a fun thing to shout along to. The irreverence is fun too: that’s okay with me.

And here’s the ironic part: this is the closest thing Wilco ever had to hit. It peaked at #22 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart*, and would have been an interesting jumping off point to Wilco, the pop band. That would have been horrible, but interesting.

*As a side note: how un-late-‘90s is something called the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart?  

There are eight songs just on this albums that The Slow States Committee prefers, but that’s how hits work – they’re broad enough to achieve broad success, and not delivery anything especially inspiring to anyone. Without actually knowing, I’ll call this one part of the ex-girlfriend dig catalog of American Rock. It’s also part of the “this video has nothing whatsoever to do with the song” trend, a popular play in the late '90s when this was released as a single.

But hey, let’s go skydiving on the record label’s tab. Maybe this should have been a sign of YHF things to come.

Slow States Wilco Project #36: You Are My Face

Fri, 17 May 2013 10:22:42 -0400

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By far the second best song on Sky Blue Sky

There’s a scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack is talking about the important rules of a good mix.  I’ve always wished that scene was an hour long.  One of the few details given is that you always have to take it back a little on the second song.  "You Are My Face" is the second track on the album and nails the spirit of that rule.  It stars off as a calm spring day, windows down drive, then gets Tweedy Soulful at the two minute mark with a shout of “I have no idea how this happens.”

It then cuts back down to mellow, and drifts away with only an ode to – and not the insane pain of – A Ghost Is Born outros.  This is a good track.

More beer as agriculture, e.g. what kind of food is in this...

Fri, 09 Nov 2012 19:16:50 -0500


More beer as agriculture, e.g. what kind of food is in this thing? Rogue continues to kill it. I know east coast beers are, as a pack, a step behind their kinsfolk out west, but this seems like an area they could take the lead quickly with such a strong small scale farming community already ramped and servicing NY and DC.

Best live show I saw this year, and I saw Bob Dylan this year....

Mon, 05 Nov 2012 21:48:07 -0500

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Best live show I saw this year, and I saw Bob Dylan this year.  And I saw The Avett Brothers.  And Isbell only played for a half-hour (it was at a festival where he was added late).  And it was still the best show I saw this year.

The video is in anticipation of the Jason Isbell live album, now available for preorder and coming out in a couple of weeks.