We are giving away a pair of tickets to Jason Isbell @ Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on August 8. To win, comment on this post why you’d like to attend. Winner will be drawn and emailed Friday, August 7.
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Jason Isbell w/ Damien Jurado
August 8, 2015
Doors 7 p.m., Show 8 p.m. | $27.50 – $37.505 | All Ages
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
1037 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97205
Every once in a while, and not that often, a popular musician comes along whose work is both profoundly personal and evocative of the larger moment, merging the specifics of lived experience in a particular time and place to the realities of our shared journey as a community, a people. The work of such artists as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Kurt Cobain – and now Jason Isbell, I would argue, with his new album Something More Than Free – spreads irresistibly outward from the soul, that private well of vision and emotion, into the broader realm of cultural history, sharpening our ability to see, expanding our ability to feel, and restoring our sense that we belong not only to ourselves but to an extended spiritual family. The songs create a space to be together, and closer together than we were before.
To fans and the music press, the personal story surrounding Isbell’s last, breakthrough album, Southeastern, is widely known and easily reprised. A troubled young troubadour, newly married, stepped away from the darkness of addiction into a new, uncertain life of clarity and commitment, reflecting ruefully on his hard won victories and the price he paid attaining them. It was an album of aching elegance, marked by the sort of lyrical precision that brought to mind certain literary masters of the melancholy American scene, from Flannery O’Connor to Raymond Carver. By avoiding the hairy-chested bombast of arena country music while crafting music with solid melodic contours Isbell created an album, and a sound, of memorably infectious empathy.
With Something More Than Free, he stretches himself further, greatly expanding the boundaries of Isbell country, that territory of the heart and mind where people strive against their imperfections, and simultaneously against their circumstances, in a landscape that’s often unfriendly to their hopes. As always, he starts with the subjects he knows best: the dignity of work, the difficulty of love, the friction between the present and the past. “I found myself going back,” he says, explaining the direction he chose to take, “to family and close personal relations.” The opening cut, “It Takes a Lifetime”, so loose and summery and optimistic, invites us into this circle of kindred souls, instantly making us feel at home. And while Isbell may be singing about himself or someone else who’s inner life he’s privy to when he mentions fighting ‘the urge to live inside my telephone,’ isn’t that everyone’s challenge nowadays?
Once you’ve cleaned up your act, what should your next action be, and your next? That’s one of the questions handled in “24 Frames”, the album’s bracing second cut, whose narrator seems to be managing life deliberately, step by step, with peril all around. “You thought God was an architect. Now you know/ He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow.” The danger of self-destruction is always near, and the way to defeat it seems to be putting self-seeking and vanity aside and taking the next right action, however simple. “After you’ve looked your fears in the eye,” Isbell tells me on the phone, “What’s important now?” Maybe he knows and maybe he’s still learning — this isn’t an album of easy certainties -– but what makes his songwriting so rich and gripping, besides its observational precision, is the honesty of his inquiries. He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t cheat.