Jason Isbell wsg Damien Jurado
Kalamazoo State Theatre, Kalamazoo
Feb. 13; 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show
$35 reserved seating, $29.50 student seating
kazoostate.com, (269) 345-6500
Despite its deep and dark subject matter, Jason Isbell’s latest album is a celebration of second chances.
Completely clean for the first time in his career – that includes six hard-drinking years with alt-country rockers Drive-By Truckers, and another six with his backing band The 400 Unit – the Alabama-born Isbell headed to Nashville. There he recorded Southeastern, his fourth solo effort, which he released in 2013 to widespread acclaim.
“A lot of the songs have had connections with folks,” Isbell said about the emotional, and oftentimes personal, songs on the album. “‘Elephant’ I think especially comes to mind because a lot of people have had to deal with illness and death and relationships in that way.”
Returning to the road, he has since shared more of his struggle for sobriety as he’s toured the country and confronted his demons all over again.
“I kind of put myself in the place I was in when I wrote the songs every night,” Isbell said. “The hard part sometimes is just not being too emotionally affected by the things that I’m singing. Sometimes it’s really hard not to get choked up onstage.”
In addition to being a triumph of spirit, Southeastern holds a special place in Isbell’s heart because he finished recording it just two days before marrying his new wife, singer/songwriter/violinist Amanda Shires.
“I just wish I had her the in studio more,” Isbell said about Shires, who appears with him on Southeastern’s road lament, “Travelling Alone.” “She was working on planning the wedding, so she didn’t get to come in there every day, but it was really important for me to document that particular period in my life just because a lot of really good things were happening.”
Although he doesn’t plan on premiering any new songs on this tour, Isbell said he has finished about 13 songs for his next album, which he plans to record in Nashville in March for a release sometime this summer.
In the meantime, Shires, who acts as both his editor and his muse, will be listening carefully.
“She just has good taste,” Isbell said. “If something I write in a song doesn’t work, she’ll be the first, and sometimes the only person, to call me out on it.”