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Review: Jason Isbell’s Live Show Packs an Emotional Punch [PICTURES]

If you’re seeing Jason Isbell in concert, you largely know what you’re going to get: A night of stellar musicianship, from both Isbell himself and his band, the 400 Unit; a mix of solo Isbell songs and work from his time with the Drive-By Truckers; a bit of funny onstage banter and, perhaps, a cover song. What you don’t necessarily expect is for Isbell’s lyrics to hit you quite as hard as they do.

That’s not a knock on Isbell’s songwriting — to the contrary, it’s a testament to it. His lyrics are sharp and introspective, and often wise beyond Isbell’s years (that’s part of what got him noticed during his time with the Truckers), and there are plenty of songs in his catalog during which it’s not surprising to well up a bit. But it is surprising, a little bit, when you start to feel particularly strong emotions during songs such as “Cumberland Gap” and “Something More That Free.” Isbell has an uncanny ability to make his audience really feel the emotions of the situations in those songs.

Especially powerful during Isbell and the 400 Unit’s stop in Canandaigua, N.Y., on Thursday night (June 29) were “White Man’s World” and “Cover Me Up.” The former contains a number of lines about his wife and daughter (“I still have faith, but I don’t know why / Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eyes”) that took on extra meaning while watching Isbell and wife Amanda Shires‘ daughter Mercy watching her parents from the side of the stage. The introduction to the latter included good-night wishes to Mercy, who was headed back to the bus for bedtime — sweet, but not as sweet as watching Isbell sing the song, written for Shires, to Shires, who stood nearby, under her own spotlight, adding in fiddle notes.

Isbell and company are touring in support of his newest albumThe Nashville Sound, and as such, his setlist includes (at least at this show) eight of the album’s 10 tracks, but older tracks such as “24 Frames” and “Outfit” are still there. For the time being, Isbell has also kept the Allman Brothers Band‘s “Whipping Post” as his closing song; the incendiary, all-out-jam-session rendition of the classic kept his Thursday night audience cheering for more long after the house lights came up.

Isbell and the 400 Unit are currently scheduled to be on the road through mid-November. Visit for more information.

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