Jason Isbell, of course, is overrated. He is as talented a singer-songwriter as there is on the country-rock and Americana landscape, but for all his comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, he is seven or one anthems short of that kind of prestige. Springsteen described Isbell’s most recent record, The Nashville Sound, as a “beautiful album,” which seems about perfect. An individual could throw in adjectives such as “eloquent” and “available” as well.

Is Isbell, a Grammy-winning Alabaman, in the same league as Taylor Swift? He isn’t even playing the same game. I am not convinced Isbell’s a better songwriter than an obscure figure like Toronto’s Neville Quinlan (of NQ Arbuckle), a neighborhood road sweeper, comparatively speaking. However, Isbell’s critical acclaim is profound and fiercely voiced, and lovers believe the world of his skills.

What’s everyone reacting to then? Listening to the opening tune he and his group, the 400 Unit, played in the first of the two nights at Massey Hall on Tuesday offered a hint. “Why am I where I am supposed to be,” he asked on the tuneful mid-tempo rocker Stress. “Even with my lover sleeping close to me, I’m wide awake and I am in pain.”

He is singing about a person’s fears and insecurities — something men traditionally haven’t done in such a smart manner. More than 1 concertgoer in the audience wore a Waylon Jennings T-shirt. Jennings would likely tell Isbell to rub some dirt on his own or her anxieties. Johnny Cash may tell Isbell, “I will give you something to cry about.”

Various times, different guys. Stoicism is for suckers. Isbell is unique in a contemporary manner, his sensitive expressions articulate, empathetic and relatable. The populist method of singing to the inarticulate is nothing new, but Isbell also reflects guys that are uncomfortable in expressing their feelings. While Merle Haggard sang he was pleased to be an Okie from Muskogee, Isball worries that the “whole world’s a lonely, faded film” in his thoughts.

If anything, Isbell is a descendant of a more sensitive type: Kris Kristofferson, who wasn’t so proud he could not ask someone to help him make it through the night.

Helping him through the night at Massey was a five-piece band that included his wife, Amanda Shires, a singing, songwriting fiddler. She opened the show also, with Isbell watching from the wings — not because she is his wife, he told the audience, but since he was a great lover of hers. It goes without saying that Isbell did not refer to Shire as “the little girl.”

Before breaking out as a solo performer with Sirens of the Ditch in 2007, Isbell was a part of the Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers. He hails from northern Alabama, not far from Muscle Shoals, home of the mythical recording-studio group the Swampers, who had been known to pick a song or 2.

Isbell’s own group, the 400 Unit, is a competent (if unadventurous) alt-country squad. 1 tune, Super 8 Motel, sounded like mud-flap Cheap Trick.

As a rhythm guitarist, Isbell switched back and forth between an acoustic version and various products in the Fender and Gretsch factories. He utilized a Stratocaster on Decoration Day, the next number of a two-song encore that shut the evening.

Decoration Day, from Isbell’s time with the Drive-By Truckers, worries a blood-feud involving Southern families. The song is all about honor, grievances that endure generations and paying our fathers’ sins. No one required to wonder what Isbell was getting at. He is a man of his time, with something to say.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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