Anyone familiar with Gregory Alan Isakov will have experienced the magical silken threaded balance he uses to engage the listener. I still can’t explain why he leaves me with such a great calm but those gentle melodies and voice will set you adrift. His music possesses a timeless quality, an exqusite listening experience.
His last CD, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, made a huge impression on many and brought him the much deserved wider exposure and it is finally getting released in the UK on 23rd May. His influences include Leonard Cohen, Iron and Wine and Kelly Joe Phelps but the results are far too unique to be anything other than his own.
Gregory is about to undertake a UK Tour to tie-in with the UK album launch, details of which can be found below, So we just couldn’t pass up on an opportunity for him to record a session for Folk Radio UK, so here it is along with an exclusive new song called Second Chances:
As a teen he attended folk festivals and was impressed by songsmiths Greg Brown and Dar Williams, but it was Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad that proverbially changed his life. “That was a big one for me. There was a mood to the record I was completely blown away by. Listening to these writers closely, one day I had the realization that these people had no idea what a big part of my life they were and how they’d created the soundtrack to it.” It wasn’t long after his epiphany that Isakov began to create his own music.
Moving to Colorado in 1999 to study horticulture, he simultaneously embarked on a career as an acoustic singer-songwriter. He debuted with the gentle Rust Colored Stones in 2003 and followed with the haunting Songs for October (2005) then the Celtic-influenced That Sea, The Gambler (2007).
It was while touring that he caught the attention of Americana singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile who liked what she heard and passed on Isakov’s music to Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. “He’s a really great writer and really raw. His voice is just putting it out there. There’s no affectation or pretension. It’s like punk folk”, says Ray.
In 2008, the Denver publication Westword named him their Best Acoustic Folk Artist. The previous year he was given the paper’s Best of Denver Singer-Songwriter award; they called him “a rootsier Glen Phillips channeling Kelly Joe Phelps.”
Isakov feels an artistic kinship with folks like Phelps (he admires his ability to merge heaviness with humour) as well as Carlile, who offered to sing and record parts of This Empty Northern Hemisphere at her studio. The pair also cut Leonard Cohen’s ‘One of Us Cannot Be Wrong’, as a duet. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs in the world”, says Isakov. “It was a struggle for me to see how I could make it better – so I tried to make it as different as I could.”
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
Isakov co-produced the album at various locations with Jamie Mefford who also engineered and is credited with God Noises. He’s accompanied throughout by Jen Gilleran (drums), Jeb Bows (violin) and Phil Parker (cello). Isakov plays guitars, banjo, piano and harmonica, among other instruments.
The record opens with ‘Dandelion Wine’. “I don’t think I’ve ever spent longer on a song, even though it’s only a few lines”, explains Isakov of the song’s distilled verses. He wrote the beautifully minimalist arrangement, ‘Words’, with his younger brother. The Tibetan Book of the Dead inspired the winsome ‘Idaho’, while ‘Evelynne’ and ‘If I Go I’m Goin’’ are story songs, in time-honoured singer-songwriter tradition.
“There were moments while making the new album that were so different than anything I’ve done before. I thought, ‘Greg, are you seriously putting this out?’ It feels way bigger to me, more rock’n’roll”, he says. “Everyone I’ve ever listened to made it into the record – It’s like a traveling circus.” And Isakov is its truth and beauty-seeking ringmaster.
Gregory Alan Isakov UK Tour Dates
I encourage you to see him if you can, some of these gigs are in great intimate settings, you may not get another chance like this.
Wednesday 1st Glasgow Brel Bar
0141 342 4966 www.brelbarrestaurant.com £10, 7.30pm
Thursday 2nd Crawley The Hawth Studio
01293 553636 / www.hawth.co.uk £12, 8pm
Friday 3rd Cropredy The Brasenose Arms
Oxfordshire 01295 750244 / www.brasenosearms.com Free, 7pm
Saturday 4th Kirton-In-Lindsey Diamond Jubilee Town Hall
Nr. Scunthorpe 0794 771 2316 / www.kirtoninlindseytownhall.co.uk £10, 7pm
Sunday 5th Glastonbury La Terre
01458 834 959 / www.laterre.info £5, 7pm
Tuesday 7th Penryn Miss Peapods
Cornwall 01326 374424 / www.misspeapod.co.uk £7.50, 7pm
Wednesday 8th Torquay The Blue Walnut Café
01803 325 469 / www.bluewalnutcafe.com £8, 7.30pm
Thursday 9th Oswestry The Ironworks
Shropshire 01691 679123 / www.the-ironworks.co.uk £7, 8.30pm
Friday 10th Brighton The Prince Albert
01273 730499 / www.myspace.com/theprincealbert £7, 8pm
Saturday 11th Salisbury Salisbury Art Centre – Live Lunch sessions
01722 321744 / www.salisburyartscentre.co.uk Free, Noon
Saturday 11th Pentyrch Acapela Chapel
Nr. Cardiff 02920 890 862 / http://acapela.co.uk £TBC, 8pm
Sunday 12th London The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell
08444 771 000 / www.electroacousticclub.com £9, 7.30pm