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With or without band, Isbell satisfies

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, January 10, 2020

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Usually, when an artist performs without his regular backing band, it becomes about mathematics of subtraction. That artist is armed with far fewer artistic weapons at his/her disposal, after all. In Jason Isbell's case, though, when he performed with just his wife and fiddler Amanda Shires, it was more about substitution than subtraction.

Rather than singing over a loud rocking band, Isbell's voice could be clearly heard via the Walt Disney Hall's outstanding acoustics. This was a chance to hear more of Isbell's fine acoustic guitar work, too. Lastly, one was able to enjoy more of Isbell's musical interplay and verbal banter with Shires.

Isbell's setlist for this rare unplugged show wasn't much different from his usual band dates. He once again drew cream from his healthy crop by singing about his friend with cancer on "Elephant," addressing racism with "White Man's World" and sometimes feeling like a stranger in a strange land during "Last of My Kind."

Isbell also performed three songs from his just-completed studio album. He didn't pre or back announce any of these songs. One, though, concerned comforting a friend who had just lost her mate to suicide. Another was about watching his young daughter grow up. Isbell also performed Townes Van Zandt's "Poncho and Lefty," which he described as one of his daughter's favorite bedtime songs. (He earned good parenting points for that one).

Isbell saved a few of his best love songs until the end, closing with "If We Were Vampires" and singing "Cover Me Up" as his final encore. This capped yet one more wonderful Jason Isbell concert experience. It proved that, with or without a backing band, Isbell shows are consistently fully satisfying.

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