It was my 13th Isbell show, and it’s getting increasingly harder to impress me. I’ve never seen a dud, but there have been a few that I felt were a little off. But about midway through the set at his annual Ryman Residency, I found myself asking, “Is this the best one yet?” I doubted myself. Surely the city, Nashville, and the historic venue known as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” was swaying my experience a bit.
But at the end of the show, the guy sitting next to me with his fiance’, who I visited with a bit before the show, (Isbell shows are becoming known for the camaraderie among fans as much as the concert itself), proclaimed with his jaw dropped, “That was the best concert I’ve ever seen.”
A few days later I ran into an old friend who saw Isbell in New York, and confirmed what I had suspected: This is an artist at the top of his game.
Also of note: Isbell used this year’s residency to spotlight previously ignored artists in the country/roots/Americana world. Every show featured a different artist, all female, and all but his wife, Amanda Shires, a black woman. There’s been a lot written about this, and I think this may be the best.