by Paul Bowers
Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell might be an Alabama boy, but it's no secret that he loves Charleston. His guitarist Sadler Vaden hails from the area, he can't stop coming back to play shows — including a recent surprise cameo at the Pour House and an upcoming two-night stand at the Music Hall in October — and he recently told Details magazine that Sean Brock's cornbread is so good it makes him cry.
So we were hardly surprised when, listening to the preview stream of Isbell's Something More Than Free on NPR Music, we caught all kinds of Holy City references in the blues-rock song "Palmetto Rose." The title, of course, is a reference to the woven creations that sidewalk vendors hawk to couples downtown. The refrain, "Lord let me die in the Iodine State," is a reference to one of South Carolina's lesser-known nicknames, the product of a 1920s agricultural marketing campaign touting elevated levels of iodine in the state's produce.
Thematically, "Palmetto Rose" is yet another ode to the working class by Isbell, who's been writing in that wheelhouse since his stint with the Drive-By Truckers. He sings: "Here on King Street we're selling our roses / Two for a five-dollar bill / And tonight after everything closes / I'll follow my own free will."
And then there's this half of a verse:
"Catch you comin' out of a King Street store / Bullshit story 'bout the Civil War / You can believe what you wanna believe / But there ain't no makin' up a basket weave / Everybody in the tri-county knows / Who makes the best palmetto rose."
Well, we know what we're talking about the next time Isbell gives us an interview.