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Jason Isbell rocks sold-out house with dark, lonesome tales

Written by Scott Mervis on .

Isbellphoto by Johnny Saint LethalThe body count kept escalating as Jason Isbell’s set wore on Monday night at the Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead.

And the singer-songwriter from Alabama, as adept as they come with a murder ballad, captivated the sold-out crowd through a two-hour set.

Listening to Isbell, who spent six years with vaunted Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, one gets the sense that he wore out his copy of Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” along with knowing his Willie, Waylon and Cash.

On Monday night, he played almost all of 2013’s “Southeastern,” his fourth and most accomplished solo album. It is heavy, to say the least, tackling such dark subjects as loneliness (“Traveling Alone”), a cancer battle (“Elephant”) and pedophilia at home (“Yvette”). In that last one, a classmate with a rifle and a scope takes care of the problem.

Isbell writes with exquisite detail and subtle twists, like on the song “Live Oak,” about a killer on the run: “We’d robbed a Great Lakes freighter/killed a couple men or more/When I told her, her eyes flickered like the sharp steel of a sword.”

He had a darkly humorous story about a young girl, only 9, holding a sign, requesting that at a concert. “I don’t think I write songs that appeal to people in that age group,” he said with a laugh. After the show, the girl asked him what happened to the woman, who is buried at the end of the song. When he suggested that maybe she didn’t die, her dad to him, “Thanks a lot. That’s gonna be four or five weeks of nightmares.”

Although the subject matter rarely sees the light, Isbell’s delivery is anything but droning. He has a voice as sharp and shiny as that sword, and his quartet gave the songs moody Southern accents — including slide guitar and accordion — while rocking as hard as the Truckers on “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change,” songs that he did with that band.

“It’s all folk music,” Isbell said. “Some’s louder than others.”

He saved one of the loudest for last, sending people into the cold Monday night with “Super 8,” a churning and almost joyous roadhouse rocker that has the narrator in a hotel room on the wrong end of a jealous boyfriend’s fungo bat.

Seattle indie veteran Damien Jurado was a fitting opener with his own haunting narratives and lonesome vocal style.

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