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Sound Advice

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Lightning Rod Records

Sounds like: Muscle Shoals gone indie

Short take: Drive-By Trucker finds his way back home

Where has soul music gone in the 21st century? By all appearances, straight to England. But artists like Duffy and Amy Winehouse, strong as they can be, are more refraction than inspiration. Jason Isbell, on the other hand, hails from the Muscle Shoals, Ala., scene, a pedigree that can't be bought. His previous band, Drive-By Truckers, took the essence of Muscle Shoals and turned up the volume, bringing it to a younger audience. Now Isbell and his new group, the 400 Unit, are moving the boundaries outward a bit, while still staying close to the soulful emotions that make up the region's bedrock. Freed from DBT's more rock inclinations, Isbell's voice is an expressive powerhouse; it clearly needed to be heard on its own. Expect to find this one on Best Of lists come year's end. Bill Bentley

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Living Things

Habeas Corpus

Jive

Sounds like: Garage rock for the dance floor

Short take: Living Things adds life to dance-punk scene

Living Things further promote the merging of punk angst into danceable rhythms on this second studio effort. The results, however, may not be what you expect; the dance pendulum swings between New Wave ("Oxygen") and garage rock ("The Kingdom Will Fall"). Living Things' strength centers around hooky melodies and crunchy guitars, with the anthemic "Cost of Living" finding the quartet firing on all cylinders. What truly stands out among these 11 tracks is the solid songwriting, which is surprisingly due to the transitory nature of its genre free of artifice. There's actual depth to tracks like the acoustic-based "Island in Your Heart," even if it does sound more U.K.- than St. Louis-bred. Living up to its title, Habeas Corpus is an arresting affair that forces listeners to get in step with today's dance-punk scene. John Benson

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O.V. Wright

Memphis Unlimited

Reel Music

Sounds like: The boss of Southern soul near his apex

Short take: Overton Vertis still feels your pain

Produced by Willie Mitchell and featuring the same musicians he used in his glorious Al Green sessions, 1973's Memphis Unlimited may not be Overton Vertis Wright's crowning moment, but it's close. The band gets down in the dirt from note one, with Howard Grimes' fatback snare drum slamming punches to the stomach, and the three Hodges brothers delivering toe-curling backup that's almost enough to make the lame walk and mute talk. On "I've Been Searching" and "I'd Rather Be (Blind, Crippled and Crazy)," O.V. Wright's voice takes listeners to the darkest depths and highest heights with hardly any effort. His singing is smooth and shattered at the same time, indicating a lifetime of sorrow spent pursuing love and happiness. To this day, those who chase the holy grail of scorched-earth soul music will find Wright at the mountaintop. Bill Bentley

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