Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires are amongst the most celebrated couples in music, and their star continues to rise. Theirs is a story that brings to mind iconic husband and wife teams like Johnny and June, and they can boast an ever growing legion of fans and critical acclaim. The past year or so has proved to be one of their most successful in terms of their music, while it has also been a span with times of great difficulty -- both with their art and their relationship. Jason and Amanda speak here in separate interviews from their home in wide-ranging conversations covering everything from Jason’s subconscious character portrait of a departed friend in the song “Only Children” to Amanda’s account of common misconceptions about their lives as artists, and they reveal a playful and affectionate side of themselves that does not often show itself in their lyrics.
Included in the podcast are excerpts of music from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s latest album, Reunions, and Amanda Shire’s latest singles, as well as an unearthed live radio performance of the two playing “Relatively Easy” in early 2014. In a way, Jason and Amanda have come full circle in the time since: they find themselves today once again in a simpler situation than in the years between. Credit the coronavirus pandemic for that, but even so, those intervening six years can now be seen as a distinct chapter in their lives. Back when their performance of “Relatively Easy” was live on the radio, they didn’t have their daughter Mercy Rose; there were yet no Grammy awards. And this year when these interviews were recorded, Jason and Amanda’s lives had retreated from the stage to their home and their family life. Before, they didn’t carry the weight of the level of stardom they have since achieved; now, the pressure to maintain their status at the top of the musical food chain is relieved by current circumstances, which include having just released what will surely be more award winning work.
Thanks to WNCW’s Sean Rubin for engineering my call with Jason Isbell and for remixing “Relatively Easy”, and to Corrie Askew for producing the radio adaptations of this series on public radio WNCW. Our theme songs are by Joshua Meng. I’m your host and producer Joe Kendrick, and this is Southern Songs and Stories: the music of the South and the artists who make it.
Music heard in this episode:
- “Overseas” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit from Reunions, excerpt
- “The Problem” by Amanda Shires with Jason Isbell, excerpt
- “Only Children” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit from Reunions, excerpt
- “Deciphering Dreams” by Amanda Shires from To The Sunset, excerpt
- “Relatively Easy” by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires live on WNCW January 22, 2014