I’m not sure where Jason Isbell lives. If pressed, I’d venture to guess that he and Amanda Shires reside below the Mason-Dixon, in some Southeastern state, in a music-filled home that is hugged by a wraparound porch. But once they took the stage at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Isbell and Shires interacted as if it was their living room.

Pitched as “An Acoustic Evening with Jason Isbell,” the billing lied. Emanating Springsteen/Scialfa vibes, Isbell played all but one of nineteen songs with Shires. They first emerged from the wings holding hands. And that is how they entered and exited all night; after the set, before the encore, and at the end of the show. In between, they whispered to each other off-mic, like parents making decisions in front of the kids.

This proud intimacy crept in to their renditions of Isbell’s songs. In “Traveling Alone,” the couple each pivoted 90 degrees on their boot heels to end up singing while facing each other. The pared down stage production allowed for Isbell’s lyrics to command the room, with minimal lighting barely reaching the stage.

In today’s genre-less world, we are left to cobble together our own characterizations of nascent, hybridized genres. With Isbell’s drawl, and Shires’ fiddle, some might lean towards country. But it’s hard not to eventually land under the tattered yet durable banner of Americana.

The majority of these tunes felt restrained, whittled down to fit the quietude expected in the Disney Hall. But in “Flagship,” the couple worked up the song to bit of a rollicking jam, as if they were cutting loose out on that porch. “Elephant” included a call and response between the couple, Isbell dropping quick and dirty melodic riffs that Shires answered faithfully with her bow.

“Tour of Duty” had some slick picking as well, enough to obscure the deeper meaning of a song that on its surface feels like an anthem to living the good life. In another quid pro quo, husband and wife traded leads until everything boiled over in to a welcome foot stomper.

It’s hard to believe that Isbell’s redemption record, Southeastern, came out nearly seven years ago. The LP marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life – sobriety. The songs smell like the booze stained carpets he left behind, and are more evidence of the blurring of those pesky genre lines.

These tracks, particularly the monstrous and important “Cover Me Up,” has no single home on FM radio in 2020. It can be found on NPR, or at Stagecoach. At Disney Hall, it had a glorious trajectory, with Isbell brandishing his own voice like a weapon; a dagger to our collective heart. “Live Oak,” another cut of Southeastern, also appeared. The story of existential crisis told in the lyrics became intertwined with desperate, elegant cries from Amanda Shires’ violin.

The set included a selection from Shires’ catalogue, the distinct “Parking Lot Pirouette,” which she sang with a bit of Joanna Newsom’s pixie sneer.

To the delight of die hards in the room, Isbell elected to play a handful of new songs off a forthcoming LP, including some about (surprise) parenthood, and another that he had never played before.

One new cut is Jason Isbell’s attempt to emotionally sort the tragic loss of a friend who had taken their own life a few months ago. As performed, it was the sound of a couple grieving together. Once again, Isbell and Shires drew us in to a private corner of their world, with Isbell singing, “What can I do to help you sleep? I’ll work hard, I’ll work for cheap.”


24 Frames
Hope the High Road
Traveling Alone
[new song]
Live Oak
Parking Lot Pirouette (Amanda Shires cover)
Tour of Duty
[new song]
Something More Than Free (performed by Jason Isbell solo)
Alabama Pines
Last of My Kind
Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt cover)
[new song]
If We Were Vampires
Speed Trap Town
White Man’s World
Cover Me Up

Photo assistance: Jamie Callahan, Spyral Art