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Jason Isbell: Show Preview 

Wednesday, Sep 11 2013

Most of the power in any country song comes from the imagery in its lyrics. And that's why Southeastern, the third solo album by former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, is a very good album: It's filled with scenes you can easily picture, and lines that arrive with the rare, devastating heft of Truth. The way he carefully unfurls the cancer story of "Elephant": "She said, 'Andy, you crack me up'/Seagram's in a coffee cup/Sharecropper eyes, and the hair almost gone." The way he indicts his lonely self on "Traveling Alone": "So high, the street girls wouldn't take my pay/She said come see me on a better day, and she just danced away." The entirety of "Live Oak," a pre-Civil War tale of a murderer softened by love: "We'd robbed a great-lakes freighter/Killed a couple men aboard/When I told her, her eyes flickered like/The sharp steel of a sword." Isbell, now 34, committed a few lifetimes' worth of hell-raising as a Trucker and a solo artist before recently getting sober. Whether it's the onset of clarity, his summer marriage to collaborator and tour opener Amanda Shires, or something else, his songwriting has hit a new level of potency of late.

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Ian S. Port

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