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Jason Isbell: Tiny Desk Concert

Like many singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell writes music that mirrors developments in his own life. In recent years, that's thankfully included the hard-won contentment he's experienced on his path to 40: sobriety, marriage and on from there. On this summer's The Nashville Sound, the decorated Alabama-born star understandably casts his gaze toward parenthood — a job he's recently come to share with singer, fiddler and Tiny Desk veteran Amanda Shires — but expands his scope further to encompass politics, fear of obsolescence, and his place in the world. It's a gorgeous record: noble and scruffy, graceful and human.

For his Tiny Desk debut, Isbell and his band The 400 Unit performed three songs from The Nashville Sound, but their set fanned out to include lengthy bits of funny banter, a false start and an impromptu bit in which he shone a spotlight on a member of the audience. "This is like an audition and a rock show at once," he deadpanned to Ashwin Wadekar, a guest in the building who — not to spoil anything — got more than he'd likely expected from his visit to NPR headquarters.

Set List

"Chaos and Clothes"


"Last of My Kind"


Jason Isbell (vocals, guitar); Sadler Vaden (guitar); Amanda Shires (fiddle, backing vocals); Jimbo Hart (bass); Derry deBorja (keyboards); Chad Gamble (drums); Ashwin Wadekar (guitar on "Last of My Kind").


Producers: Bob Boilen, Niki Walker, Bronson Arcuri; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Jason Willetts; Videographers: Niki Walker, Tsering Bista; Production Assistant: Nick Michael; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)