NEW YORK – Jason Isbell had big plans for this summer, between a new album specifically designed to introduce his music to a wider audience and a schedule that had him onstage most nights from May to September.
Like millions of others, many of Isbell's dreams are on hold because of the coronavirus.
So on a recent evening, he and wife Amanda Shires performed his new songs for an Internet audience at a near-empty Nashville club. Stray claps sounded like they came from a handful of janitors sweeping up in the back.
“It wasn't a new experience,” said Isbell, recalling a night in State College, Pennsylvania, where his only spectators were the opening band and bar employees.
But it's one that rightfully belongs in the rear-view mirror. The 2013 breakthrough album “Southeastern” established Isbell as an important new voice and two vibrant follow-ups proved that wasn't a fluke. With Lucinda Williams and t he late John Prine, Isbell formed a holy trinity for fans of Americana music.
Labels can be cages, though, ones didn't limit forebears like Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty. They were rock stars whose music topped the pop charts. Isbell has similar lofty ambitions and, longtime producer Dave Cobb believes, the talent to back it up.
Those ambitions nearly cost Cobb his job.
“You always want to reach people you haven't reached before,” Isbell explained. His last few albums effectively captured Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, as if they played live in a room together. But Isbell wanted production touches that could help the disc “Reunions” appeal to people who might not listen to Americana music.