When: Mon., March 24 2014
singer/songwriter, 7:30 p.m.
Jason Isbell’s songs — his best ones, anyway — are stories packed with tiny details and intimate poetry. It’s always been this way, stretching back to his days in the Drive-By Truckers (“Decoration Day,” “Danko/Manuel”) and into his best work with The 400 Unit, with songs like “Alabama Pines” and “The Magician” revolving around a seemingly endless cavalcade of drifting souls. So to say Southeastern, Isbell’s 2013 LP, is his best record yet is to say it’s filled with his sharpest stories. “Elephant” is a devastating song about watching a drinking buddy get eaten alive by cancer. “Live Oak” is about a rueful ex-con who can’t outrun his past. Those songs, though fictional, come alive through their rich character studies. But Southeastern is also, at least tangentially, about Isbell’s path to sobriety. (He quit his prodigious drinking in 2012.) The full-throttle rave-up “Super 8” seemingly finds Isbell stinging with regret over lost years dulled by Jack Daniels: “It would make a great story,” he sings, after verses filled with gory details about long nights, bar fights, and where-in-the-hell-am-I? mornings, “if I could ever remember it right.” And sparse opening number “Cover Me Up” finds him searching for redemption — “I sobered up and I swore off that stuff, forever this time” — but it’s, at heart, a love story, possibly about his new wife. Whether they’re true or not is secondary. With Isbell, perhaps the greatest country songwriter of his generation, the characters always feel real. —Patrick Wall MONDAY