Just a few songs into the final night of his Ryman Auditorium residency in Nashville on Saturday (Oct. 26), Jason Isbell promised fans new music.
“We are going to the studio in December. We are going to make some new music,” Isbell told the seventh consecutive sold-out crowd at the iconic country music venue. “I have written some new songs. None of them mention Chick-Fil-A, so that’s cool,” Isbell added, poking fun at a lyric from Kanye West’s Friday release Jesus Is King.
The two-hour long set featured a preview of Isbell’s new material with a track titled “Overseas.” The lyrics state “And the waiter made a young girl cry at the table next to mine last night / And I know you would have brought him to his knees / But you’re overseas.”
Isbell only played one new song as he spent his final Ryman show diving into his nearly 20-year career: he pulled out gems from his solo material, as well as tracks from his work with the 400 Unit (who backed his set last night) and songs from his first band Drive-By Truckers.
Isbell and the 400 Unit ran through 20 songs over the course of the evening, including several songs from 2017’s Grammy-winning album The Nashville Sound as well as “Stockholm,” “24 Frames,” “Tour of Duty” and an intimate version of “Flagship” that saw the rest of the band leave the stage except for Isbell and his wife, solo artist and member of country supergroup the Highwomen Amanda Shires.
Armed with only Isbell’s guitar and Shires’ fiddle, the two sang about a troubled couple and promised not to let that become them with lyrics, “Baby, let’s not ever get that way / I’ll say whatever words I need to say.”
When not on tour, Isbell and Shires call Nashville home with their four-year-old daughter Mercy, who joined them on stage last night.
“I wrote this song for our daughter Mercy,” Isbell told the crowd before welcoming his little girl in a pink shirt on stage. “Mercy, do you know what kind of music this is? I believe the other day you sad that it was hillbilly music,” Isbell joked with her.
Isbell’s residency has become an October tradition at the Ryman Auditorium. The Oct. 26 show marked the 27th show the group has played at the venue nicknamed the Mother Church. Throughout the week, they welcomed a different opening act each night, beginning with Shires and then Sharde Thomas, R.L. Boyce, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, North Mississippi Allstars and finally the Blind Boys of Alabama.
“I think they are one of the greatest American singing groups,” Isbell said of the Blind Boys of Alabama, who received an enthusiastic reception from the crowd.
The Blind Boys of Alabama walked out at the beginning of the evening, arm to shoulder in matching gold suits and sunglasses. Started in Isbell’s home state of Alabama roughly 80 years ago, the band hit gospel notes fitting for the Mother Church. Alabama Blind Boys received a standing ovation before doing their own encore. They performed a gospel rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” with Isbell, who joined them on stage for their final song.
The night concluded with Isbell’s sincere thank you for the Ryman’s embrace of him and his music.
“It is not terrifying anymore, but it is just as heavy,” Isbell said of his Ryman shows. “It is something I have gotten used to, but it is still a privilege.”