The Austin Chronicle

Phases & Stages

Texas Union Ballroom, June 20

Reviewed by Doug Freeman, June 26, 2015, Music

Since quitting the Drive-By Truckers in 2007, Jason Isbell has become one of the best songwriters in Americana today. As the Alabama native noted Saturday night to 1,000 strong at a sold-out Texas Union Ballroom, if it wasn't for his 2013 LP Southeastern, "We wouldn't be here right now." The album's stripped-down sound, largely shedding his band the 400 Unit, served as the focal point for this solo acoustic show, and setup to Isbell's fifth studio release, next month's Something More Than Free. Following local songwriter David Ramirez's opening set, previewing songs from his own upcoming Fables that draws impressive influences from the headliner, Isbell boldly led off the fundraiser for the Cactus Cafe and KUTX with his new title track, a blue-collar anthem in line with past peaks. Older tunes "Tour of Duty" and "Dress Blues," the latter recently covered with a measure of commercial success by the Zac Brown Band, likewise cut with Isbell's empathetic eye as he turned to the slow fallout of a generation at war. "Different Days" burned personal, as did the bar-closing lilt of "Streetlights," the singer winding stories and subtle guitar work throughout. "Goddamn Lonely Love" dug back to Truckers material ahead of "Stockholm," "Alabama Pines," and new tune "Speed Trap Town," while a searing "Cover Me Up" and wrenching "Songs That She Sang in the Shower" launched the Southeastern run of "Relatively Easy," "Live Oak," and stunning "Elephant." Closing with Trucker favorite "Outfit," Isbell noted for Father's Day that, "If you have a dad and he's worth a shit, call him and tell him you love him." Capping the 80-minute set with an encore offering new single "24 Frames" and "Traveling Alone," he closed with Tom Petty's "Even the Losers," an unnecessary cover as Jason Isbell claims his place near the top of the songwriting food chain.

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