Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires were the latest artists to perform on NPR Music‘s retooled COVID-19 edition of the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert series. The husband-and-wife duo played a trio of songs from Isbell and the 400 Unit‘s latest album Reunions.
The performance took a markedly similar shape to that of Isbell and Shires’ livestream series, I So Lounging, save for the absence of keyboardist Peter Levin. The streaming series aired nearly every day from March 20th through April 18th, and then after a short break the trio reprised the series in late July in a weekly format.
Opening up with “Dreamsicle”, the stripped-down acoustic performance sheds the rock and roll sound Isbell has cultivated with the 400 Unit. Instead, the performance harkens back to his first few solo albums after leaving Drive-By Truckers but before pairing up with the Unit. After the first song, however, comes the classic Isbell banter that has come to define, and eat up most of, the I So Lounging sessions. That is not to say this conversation is at all fruitless, as Isbell dispels nuggets of wisdom such as his observation that, “The desk that is on the Tiny Desk Concert is not tiny. It is larger than average for a desk, it’s a tiny concert at a desk… maybe a Cluttered Desk Concert.”
The two also discuss their home life with four-year-old daughter, Mercy, and reckon with being unable to perform live except for each other and the internet.
“It’s been a little difficult, we haven’t gotten to do the thing we feel we were born to do,” Isbell says.
Up next comes “Overseas”, which on the record gets a thorough guitar treatment that shows Isbell’s prowess beyond the proficient skills needed to be a country-folk singer-songwriter. Rather than any of the leads that come into the electrified version of “Overseas”, this stripped-down rendition sees more conscious interplay between Isbell’s acoustic and Shires on the fiddle.
Before their last song, Isbell and Shires expound more on their feelings of being stuck inside, with Shires offering, “I think its a lot like how everyone else is feeling where they probably wish they had a different window to look out of.”
With that, they lead into “It Gets Easier”, Isbell’s latest meditation on the struggles and rewards of sobriety. While Isbell’s fight with alcoholism stretches long back before his relationship with Shires, he has made no attempt to hide his wife’s hand in helping him stay sober. Joining together in the chorus “It gets easier, but it never gets easy”, the husband and wife team belts out their personal truth.
Watch Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires perform songs from Reunions on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.
Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires – Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
[Video: NPR Music]