Gregory Alan Isakov has been described by Boulder Weekly, "Strong, subtle...a lyrical genius" and has been compared to his influences, Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Joe Phelps, Iron & Wine and Nick Drake. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Philadelphia, Isakov moved to Colorado at the end of the last decade. He recently was named 2008's Best Acoustic/Folk Artist by the Denver Westword (Audience Award) and was named by the Denver Westword as the Best Singer/Songwriter 2007 (Critics Award). Isakov is also the 2007 winner of the Telluride Troubador Songwriting Competition. Gregory Alan Isakov has shared the stage with numerous artists such as Ani Difranco, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Richie Havens, and Fiona Apple. He has appeared at music festivals such as South by Southwest, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Monolith at Red Rocks. On the heals of his latest full length release, "That Sea, The Gambler", Gregory Alan Isakov tours as a solo artist as well as with his band, The Freight. Recordings available at cdbaby.com and iTunes.
"Colorado loves traditionalists, and it's Gregory Alan Isakov's unquestionable purity that's elevated him above the infinite army of singer-songwriters. Rather than another would-be Jeff Buckley or Will Oldham, Isakov uses 'That Sea, The Gambler' to lay bare an elegant simplicity that's caked in dust and an utter lack of pretension. Unadulterated, loosely woven folk music will always strike a twang in Denver's soul, and 'That Sea' is one of the best this area's seen in ages." -The A.V. Club
"Gregory Alan Isakov proudly calls himself a folk artist, and while that's broadly accurate, it's also a tad limiting. Because while some music fans might not consider themselves fans of "folk," they still bow at the alters of Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird and Jolie Holland.
And now you can add Isakov to that list."- Denver Post
"Gregory Alan Isakov - That Sea, The Gambler -- Americana, Folk -- Right from the first refrains of the first two tracks, it's evident that there is a reason why Gregory is recognized as "Best Male Singer-songwriter 2007" (Westword). When an artist can shush a room full of jaded peers and media types, as Gregory did at the Westword music showcase VIP nomination party recently, it's a major nod to the talent he posseses as a performer. He's appeared on David Dye's World Cafe and is quickly rising in the ranks of independent modern folk artists. A very highly recommended release."- KRFC Colorado
"...his music coasts on the same subtle strength and gravity that Bruce Springsteen built 'Nebraska' on. Hints of everyone from Steve Earle to Gillian Welch also creep into Isakov's twangy, shaded folk, but it's his absolute ease-the man sounds like he's swimming through his own songs-that makes his new 'That Sea, The Gambler' such a stunning disc." -Westword
Gregory mostly plays solo, including guitar, harmonica, and dobro.
Occasionally accompanied by his band "The Freight":
Jon Souza: tenor banjo
Jen Gilleran: drums, cajon, percussion
Jeb Bows: fiddle
Phil Parker: cello
Songs from a Cold Room (2001)
Rust Colored Stones (2003)-"february" streams on XM satellite radio, airplay on NPR, (available at cdbaby.com)
Songs For October (2005) E.P- streams on whole wheat radio, Alaska. available at cdbaby.com
That Sea, The Gambler (2007)
Westword Best of Denver & Feature
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Most Recent: http://blogs.westword.com/backbeat/2008/11/gregory_alan_isakov_working_on.php Best S...Most Recent: http://blogs.westword.com/backbeat/2008/11/gregory_alan_isakov_working_on.php
Best Singer-Songwriter -- Male
Gregory Alan Isakov has a unique, endearing presence that instantly sucks people in. Isakov has rendered us dumbfounded on numerous occasions with his ability to move audiences in a way that performers with much larger profiles would envy. With a captivating voice that evokes a rootsier Glen Phillips channeling Kelly Joe Phelps, Isakov sings rich pastoral songs that conjure long walks down dusty rural roads. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Philadelphia, Isakov moved to Colorado at the end of the last decade. Since then, he's released a spate of outstanding discs, including his fantastic debut, 2003's Rust Colored Stones, 2005's Songs for October and last year's Ghost Stories and Fair Weather EP. A new disc is slated for release this May, and we can hardly wait.
Gregory Isakov Gets Back to the Land
A visit with the rustic troubador at his Niwot farm.
By Dave Herrera
Published: May 31, 2007
Gregory Alan Isakov isn't a big talker. Live, he rolls through his sets with graceful efficiency and a minimum of banter. When he does speak, it's at such low levels that you're forced to lean in close to catch the gist of what he's saying. As soft-spoken as Isakov is, though, on stage he emanates a commanding intensity that often leaves listeners stunned and speechless. And off stage, he's not all that different.
Gregory Alan Isakov sets sail on the Land Yacht.
CD-release show, with Chris Pureka, Tiny Television and a slew of special guests, 8 p.m. Thursday, May 31, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $8, 303-443-3399.
Subject(s): Gregory Alan Isakov/ That Sea, the Gambler
On a peaceful Sunday afternoon in May, Isakov is kicking back in a plastic deck chair outside the Airstream trailer where he's been staying since he split with his girlfriend in February. The vintage mobile home is parked in the driveway of a quaint farm just off St. Vrain road in Niwot. As Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left plays quietly in the background, Isakov begins speaking in hushed tones that threaten to be drowned out by gentle wisps of an intermittent breeze and the squawking of chickens in a nearby coop. While such a pastoral scene is befitting of the rustic troubadour who's spent the better part of the past six years farming, Isakov has been a city slicker for most of his life.
He was born in the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, South Africa, and came of age during the latter days of Apartheid. As the political situation worsened, his folks decided to immigrate with their three sons to the United States in the mid-'80s. "I was scared about moving," Isakov admits now. "All I had known about America was what I saw on The Wizard of Oz. I thought there was going to be tornados everywhere."
But just as there was no yellow brick road in America, neither were the streets paved with gold. Money was tight for the Isakovs, and the five started out sharing a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Eventually, as business picked up for Isakov's father, an electronic engineer, the family was able to move into a house.
By then, Isakov was a teenager. And though he wasn't a pronounced troublemaker, he wasn't exactly an angel, either. Like many kids his age, he didn't find school appealing, so he'd often ditch his classes. When he got caught and had to serve a week's detention, he put the time to good use, discovering an aptitude for horticulture. "I wasn't like a heavy pot smoker at the time," he notes, "but I did start growing some in the closet at my parents' house. A friend of mine had given me this indoor/outdoor cultivation book to read, which I covered in brown paper. And during that week, I read the entire book and learned all about plants and photosynthesis. Then I started growing pot, and I was like, 'This is awesome.' And then I started growing corn and tomatoes and stuff."
At seventeen, the budding greens-keeper dropped out of high school and traveled to the Middle East, a guitar slung over his shoulder. He spent time in Jerusalem, where he studied desert survival skills and Hebrew, and also traveled to Egypt and Dahab. Whether he was staying in youth hostels, camping out or bunking with friends, Isakov supplemented the money his father had given him with what he earned busking on the streets and beaches of the Mideast.
"It was good for me, but I'll never play music like that again," he declares. "I can't do that anymore. I think back then I thought that's what you were supposed to do to hone your playing. But then I realized that you have to be so loud to do that, and I'm so quiet when I play, it doesn't work for me. I totally look up to people who can go out on the street and project like that."
After a year abroad, Isakov returned to the States intent on earning his diploma, and enrolled in a special program at his former high school geared toward at-risk kids. There he met a teacher who took note of his interest in agriculture and urged him to look into Naropa University. A year after graduating from high school, Isakov was in Boulder taking standard college coursework, but also practicing tai chi, learning how to meditate and doing quite a bit of gardening. Although he'd long since outgrown his desire to toke up, his green thumb was as bright as ever. During his junior year, he spent a semester in Scotland working on a functioning farm. When he returned, he spent more time on Naropa's farm and eventually decided to pursue horticulture full-time.
"Gardening keeps me sane," he says.
So does songwriting. Isakov started playing guitar as a teenager, and it's been a constant in his life ever since. Unlike with gardening, though, he's deliberately eschewed any sort of formal musical training. "I was like, 'I'm never having a music lesson. I'm never fucking this up,'" he says. "Even in college, I just wanted to keep this as something for me."
To that end, Isakov puts a lot of time and effort into his songs, cultivating them until they meet with his approval. He's issued three discs — 2003's Rust Colored Stones, 2005's Songs for October and last year's Ghost Stories and Fair Weather EP — that he considers promo offerings, given the limited number of pressings and availability of each one. Included on these discs are variations on many of the songs that ultimately ended up on That Sea, the Gambler, his latest effort. Listening to the different recordings is like watching time-lapse photography of the growth process; you get the sense that Isakov was waiting for the perfect crop of songs. But he says the songwriting process isn't quite that calculated.
"Sometimes I feel like I have no control over it," he explains. "It's just something I have to do, like eating dinner. Like anyone who practices anything, it's something that makes being with yourself the most important thing to you. It's really hard to be alone. I go through that a lot — like I want to be in town and be around people. But then a few days will go by and I realize that I haven't written or played, because there's this resistance to being by yourself. And so for me, it's kind of what opens the door to really digging the time just to hang out by yourself."
Isakov's solitude has produced some exceptional music that makes being alone an enticing rather than a lonely prospect. These are the sort of songs that sound best when you're driving alone in your car, watching the landscape blur. And, in fact, many of the tunes started on the road. "The songs mostly come from driving — I drive a lot," Isakov says. "Or then I'll see something or overhear somebody say something in the grocery store. And then I'll just go back and sit down and play it out.
"I went to see Jolie Holland last year, and she nailed it," he continues. "She said, 'Pretty much how I write songs is I walk around and eat poetry and experiences, and then one day, I'll throw it all up into a song.' And that's totally how it is. Sometimes I don't know what the songs are about. And then maybe a month later, I'll be like, 'Oh, that's what that's about.' It's kind of a magical thing. I like to keep it like that."
That magic is enough to mesmerize listeners. But Isakov says he's just as awed by his fans as they are by him. "It's an amazing honor to be able to use up someone's time with something like this," he concludes. "There's so much art going on. So I feel that to take up somebody's time, even with a five-minute song — for someone who's really listening — I want to make the experience as respectful as I can for them."
By letting the music speak for itself.
Additional Dave Herrera Westword Piece:
"Gregory Alan Isakov summoned a rootsier Glen Phillips covering the best Kelly Joe Phelps songs never written...
...I'd admired Isakov's work from afar since late last summer, when I stumbled across his MySpace page and reached out to him. He responded by sending copies of his discs, which I dug immediately. As good as his pastoral songs sound on record, they're even more endearing live. Part rustic troubadour and part backwoods shaman, Isakov had us all spellbound, hanging on to every last note." -Dave Herrera
The Onion - A.V. Club
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Theres not much immediately striking or distinct about Boulder's Gregory Alan Isakov-instead, his mu...Theres not much immediately striking or distinct about Boulder's Gregory Alan Isakov-instead, his music coasts on the same subtle strength and gravity that Bruce Springsteen built 'Nebraska' on. Hints of everyone from Steve Earle to Gillian Welch also creep into Isakov's twangy, shaded folk, but it's his absolute ease-the man sounds like he's swimming through his own songs-that makes his new 'That Sea, The Gambler' such a stunning disc. For this CD-Release party at the Fox, Isakov will be joined by a crowd of fellow local musicians, and even a couple of celebrity guests: Bob Schmidt of Flogging Molly and Justine Frischmann of Elastica.
wednesday June 6th 2007
Gregory Alan Isakov Goes Green
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The Colorado Daily September 17th, 2008 Gregory Alan Isakov has a green thumb for gardening, but...The Colorado Daily
September 17th, 2008
Gregory Alan Isakov has a green thumb for gardening, but the local musician never dreamed that his environmental interests would land him on Boulder's "etown" radio show.
The local musician will be featured at Thursday night's live "etown" taping at the Boulder Theater. The environmental showcase also will feature up-and-coming Mexican singer Lila Downs.
No doubt about it, the buzz is on about Isakov.
Two weeks ago, the singer-songwriter filled the University of Colorado's historic Old Main Theater. Isakov and his band whipped out a solid repertoire of new material, and the musician's reverberating vocals and emotive songs fully captured the audience.
"I loved playing CU's Old Main," Isakov said. "Old Main and Chautauqua's Community House are my favorite places to play in Boulder."
Isakov has played many shows in Boulder, but he didn't set out to be a performer.
"I originally went to horticulture school at Naropa," Isakov said. "It's a really small program, but I did get to study for a year in Scotland. I got my degree in environmental horticulture and I did get some use out of it. I helped manage a big garden farm in Hygiene."
Isakov really set his musical career in motion after he graduated from Naropa. He didn't study music at the local university, but he has played shows since he was 18. Along the way, he wrote songs and developed his multi-textured, folk-rock sound.
"I just write music that makes sense to me," Isakov said. "I throw in elements of folk and indie rock, but I'm just figuring it out like everybody else."
Isakov has figured out how to build an awesome band.
The musician's group features violin and cello, as well as a drummer who knows how to add just the right flourish to the intricate tunes. Unlike other artists, Isakov and his band prefer to play newer music for their audiences.
"I like to play what I'm feeling at the time," Isakov said. "As a musician, you play the songs on the records so many times, so I like to play music that's fresh when we play a concert. That way people get to hear the newer songs live."
Isakov's career is taking off and he's had the chance to open shows for A-list acts such as Rodrigo y Gabriella. This summer, the musician was asked by hitmaker Brandi Carlile to join her on stage at Chautauqua.
"It was really cool to sing with Brandi Carlile," Isakov said. "She said she'd come out to sing on my new record. Now I'm getting ready to sing on 'etown.' I'm looking forward to being on the show with Lila Downs."
The not-so-constant gardener
BY WENDY KALE Colorado Daily Music Writer?Thursday, May 24, 2007 10:39 PM MDT
The time around Memorial Day is one of the best seasons of the year to check out the local band scene. Saturday local faves Katie Herzig and Trace Bundy headline a benefit concert at Chautauqua Auditorium, local bands perform free sets at the Boulder Creek Festival this weekend, and Thursday local Gregory Alan Isakov hosts an all-star showcase at the Fox.??There's definitely been a Boulder/Denver buzz about Isakov. A talented singer/songwriter, the musician's tunes capture essences of rural rock and modern folk sounds. Isakov's been garnering lots of acclaim in the local music market and has been cited by several publications as one of the area's best new artists.??Like Dave Matthews, Isakov is a transplant from South Africa. However, this musician spent most of his growing up years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Isakov decided to head west in the late ‘90s and set up shop in the Boulder/Denver market.??“My family is from South Africa, but I lived in Philadelphia from the time I was seven to 17,” said Isakov. “I've been playing music since I was 13. I was a lonely high school kid and I got through it all by playing guitar.”
Isakov says his musical heroes are Bob Dylan and Kelly Joe Phelps. The musician was also influenced by singer Elizabeth Cotton, who composed the vintage folk tune “Freight Train.” The song not only inspired the local performer, but helped create the name of his current band the Freight.??“I only recently decided to use my own name for the band billing,” said Isakov. “The musical style I play is pretty much folk, but I feel you can do anything now within the indie-folk genre. When we play live, I do a lot of songs by myself and then the rest of the show with the band.”??Isakov is planning the mother of all modern folk CD release party's at the Fox Thursday.??The musician's new CD is called “That Sea, The Gambler.” Isakov's pulling out all the stops and an amazing list of artists will be joining him on the Fox stage to promote the new record. The impressive guest roster for the show includes: Sally Van Meter, Flogging Molly member Bob Schmidt, Reed Foehl, Jonathan Byerley, Bad Weather CA and Gasoline Lollipops.??“I think people are going to be surprised to see that much good music in one night,” said Isakov. “ I've also been doing a lot of shows in Denver. ‘That Sea, The Gambler' is self-released, but I have been courting a few different labels.”??Isakov is a gardener by trade - he even got a degree in horticulture from Naropa University. While the musician plans to tour pretty heavily, you can still find him at his fresh produce stand at the Boulder Farmer's Market.??“No matter what happens with my music, I think I'll always grow food,” said Isakov. “Growing food and music are two things I can never know enough about. I'm really happy with the way things have turned out in my life.”??Friday Shawn Mullins headlines the Fox. Saturday the venue hosts Jus Goodie and Lion Souljahs.?
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The New Gay November 2008 http://www.thenewgay.net/2008/11/amy-ray-new-gay-interview.html The N...The New Gay
The New Gay: Yes! Thank you Obama for all the candy bars had that night. So who are you listening to right now, besides being forced to listen to Journey and Leo Sayer?
Amy Ray: You know, I’ve just heard this new folk artist that I really love. He’s really totally raw, and really folk. His name is Gregory Alan Isakov. He’s out of Boulder. Somebody just turned me onto him and I went and downloaded all his records and was like, man, he is 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. I like that a lot. Sometimes when I’m playing electric stuff for awhile I like to listen to something really different from what I’m doing, just to get my ears wrapped around something different.
This is Modern
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Gregory Alan Isakov "That Sea, The Gambler" November 2008 Review ««« The Denver, Colorado mu... Gregory Alan Isakov "That Sea, The Gambler"
November 2008 Review
The Denver, Colorado music scene is ripe with young talent. This new singer/songwriter is one who will most likely take the national stage by storm. His folk sound is very reminiscent of Neil Young but more on the mellow side. The entire album is filled with lyrically driven songs that are not over powered by production or any special musical composition. He is a straightforward artist delivering some of the best in simple, yet complex, music. Isakov's music could save the world from the monotony of the pop world.
Key Tracks: "The Stable Song"; "John Brown's Body"; "3 a.m."
The Mountain Tempo Blog & Kim's Folk Music Blog
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Profile: Gregory Alan Isakov Monday November 24, 2008 http://folkmusic.about.com/b/2008/11/24/prof...Profile: Gregory Alan Isakov
Monday November 24, 2008
A few weeks ago, I was working on a story for another publication and we had a photo shoot with a few really great local Seattle singer-songwriters. Among them was Brandi Carlile, who announced toward the end of the day that her friend Gregory Alan Isakov was in town from Colorado and would be playing a show the following night. Never one to shy away from good music, and given the source of the information, I figured it would be well worth it to check this guy out.
I wasn't disappointed. Isakov is an excellent artist whose work cast an atmosphere over the room. There's something about a good singer-songwriter who, from the first few notes they play, can inspire a rapt audience. Three songs into his set, I was sold. Thanks to Ms. Carlile for the recommendation—I now pass it on to you, dear readers. Learn more about Gregory Alan Isakov.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Gregory Alan Isakov
The last post of my Boulder series concludes with one of my favorite artists to introduce to friends for the past three years. Along the lines of Alexi Murdoch, Ray Lamontagne, Iron & Wine, Buckley and Nick Drake, Gregory Alan Isakov is able to intertwine plain lyrics and simple chords that sound anything but. You see, to me, that is what distinguishes an average performer apart from the cacophony of coffehouse performers that I've grown used to. For years I have been trying to explain what it is that draws me toward certain singer-songwriters, but I've never been able to nail it until my friend Matt watched Gregory perform and nailed it. To paraphrase in long-hand, it's when you're watching a singer-songwriter and they make it seem as if there was no indication of a crowd watching the performance and the music they are creating wasn't written down, rehearsed or polished; it's the perfectly written song portrayed with their notes as raw they felt it, not as they think it should be displayed or showcased. These are the performers that make their job look so damn easy. Gregory is one of them. Make sense?
Gregory Alan Isakov was born in South Africa and ended up in Boulder after spending some time in the Philly area. He leads a fairly simple life as a part-time farmer on the beautiful front range foothills just outside of Boulder and on many cloudy days, it's easy to catch him at the coffeehouses that line Pearl Street Mall. After numerous tours, sharing the stage with Rod Y Gab, Ani DiFranco and an upcoming date with Brandi Carlile...and winning the coveted Telluride Troubadour Songwriting competition, it would seem Gregory is primed for the next step. Why hasn't he made it yet? Don't get me started. I'll cross my fingers and hope that this next tour with an etown appearance (that will be heard by well over 100,000 people) may help boost his career.
Could you hear this in the background of Grey's Anatomy?
Gregory Alan Isakov - Garden
Gregory Alan Isakov is in the process of finalizing an album with three songs that I could easily see on prime time television and two that with the right producer, could be on your local radio station. He and his manager allowed me to hear rough cuts of some new songs and I was floored with the potential of where these songs could go...if only. Here is a cut from his last album, That Sea, The Gambler, which can be purchased at any local Boulder record store or here.
Gregory Alan Isakov - The Stable Song
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Peering out at the audience from the stage at the Boulder Theater is Gregory Alan Isakov. He is sitt...Peering out at the audience from the stage at the Boulder Theater is Gregory Alan Isakov. He is sitting in a chair and cradling his favorite guitar. Shielding his eyes from the lights, the 27 year old says, “Thank you for being so quiet. I feel like a rock star up here.”
Four minutes later, after he finishes his song, Isakov coyly explains how he opened-up for Fiona Apple the week before – on the same stage. Cheers ripple through the audience. But instead of bloating egomaniacal, the humble Isakov follows the moment of glory by stating the facts: of how he played the show, met Fiona, and then – half an hour later he was in bed, reading his Harry Potter book.
“I’m so not a rock star,” Isakov joked.
It’s nearly axiomatic that if you run into Gregory Alan Isakov at the gas station, you will not retain the impression that he was neither rousing, nor charismatic. Chances are that the interaction would be awkward. And chances are that the encounter would end with Isakov quickly ducking back into his ’82 pick-up and heading down the road, toward the country.
But watch this man walk onto the Boulder Theater’s stage, with his back arched downward, the house darkened and the stage lights smoky. Watch him sit down in the middle of the stage in that solitary chair and pick-up his guitar. Because then, without prompting or warning or human voice – he will begin playing. And that voice you heard at the gas station? Suddenly it transforms into something magical, as if it were worn and aged over the sandy bottom of hundreds of creek beds. And what you’re bound to hear come out of Isakov’s mouth and guitar is, at times, astonishing. It is immersed in everything wiser than a man double his years could produce.
And while he resists the label, Isakov is both a singer and a songwriter. Testament to that is his musical landscape, which is at once masterful and precise. His catalog is moody and rutted-out in some complicated and magical way – as though some grand disaster swept along his grassy plains, leaving only heartbreak and wind-torn hallucinations behind. Isakov traces-out careful characters living in a grayscale world. Always, his sketches are of people that possess an organic and all-too-human presence. In this, Isakov is drawing pictures of himself – but he is also coloring every one of us.
Until I met Gregory Alan Isakov I had never seen one person hush the rooms that he has. From theaters to small venues. And after listening and watching, it is not all that complicated to understand why.
For the typically shy Isakov, the stage is a holy place where, sitting behind his guitar and a microphone, he thrives and provides himself a space to illustrate his depths, his kindness and his genuine character. And while Isakov has a band (The Freight), he sits on most of these lonely stages by himself – without pomp or pretension, or any concealment from thousands of wondering eyes. He wears only a simple shirt, some worn pants, a beat-up pair of boots and most likely, on a given night, he smells of wood smoke.
Why is it that Isakov can stumble at the gas station, but when faced with hundreds of people in the audience he is perfect, calm and thriving? For him the reason is not strange, or even complex. It’s because there, on stage – he has a chance to give everything. In the gas station he can only give his money.
For Isakov, music and living are analogous. For him, life is about falling in love with the world as many times as possible. And music – his music – is the story of that love.
Isakov is a simple man. He lives in a barn on a farm outside of Lyons where he maintains the greenhouse. He is not rich in finances, nor does he care to be. A horticulturist by trade, Isakov is not interested in running the city race. When asked about his future, Isakov responded by saying that he wants to live simply, in a place where he doesn’t have to listen to engines on the road. He is interested in living earnestly and in the face of humility. At all times he is quiet, but kind and warm and glowing with rousing insights.
Born in South Africa, Isakov does possess a certain feel that says – he is not from around these parts. He has spent time in the Middle East, playing his guitar on street corners and on the beach. He has traversed a good part of the Appalachian Trial. He has lived in Scotland. But it’s not these facts – taken as separate or a conglomerate, that speak to Isakov’s foreign texture. No, it’s something more than that – something larger than space and place.
When Isakov and his family immigrated to the United States – a place in young Isakov’s mind that consisted solely of tornados and Disneyland – they landed in Philadelphia. There, something began to churn in Isakov and it began to manifest itself as a separation between he and the secular world around him. Even for Isakov, who is a sponge and a student of the world around him, there was some fundamental and obvious disconnection. The world wasn’t agreeing with he. Happiness was elusive.
And so Isakov retreated – inward. And over time, the prolific songwriter became prodigious in his craft. Listen to Isakov talk about songwriting and you will find someone talking about life-theories. For Isakov, everything begins by being humble. And early-on, he even recognized the fundamental notion that being in the middle of life and being awake to everything around you reaps mountains of reward. For him music is the perfect analogy, which teaches you, among other virtues, that everything is larger than the individual. And once you come to that grand understanding, remaining in that place of wonder is not terrifying. To the contrary – it is enlightening. And for Isakov the trust in this is also about the trust in his process – as a man and as a songwriter.
Isakov will admit that he is not a great singer, nor is he a great guitar player. And while I don’t exactly agree with that – I do agree with the notion that when he combines the two elements: something altogether mystical happens. And as evidenced by the rooms I have seen hushed: Combine the two elements and Isakov becomes great. Somehow Isakov has the ability to condense a near-universe of emotion and wonderment into his small frame as though he has been levied these as his lifelong taxes.
But say this to Isakov and he will respond by saying that there is no way that you can reasonably expect to condense all that into one person. Isakov questions this premise of religion: Isn’t everything, everywhere?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, but the moments of reflection come being in-between moments: At the bus stations, or waiting for a train. In these moments of pause, Isakov spends his time in reflection and reverence on the life around him. And once sitting with his guitar, it’s about the articulation and the sketches in his head. And if he did his job – the spontaneity of his production will speak for him. The production, the song is the paycheck; the approval of a life well-lead.
For Isakov, his songs and the characters in them are not limiting to one person, or one event or situation. Rather, Isakov’s songs are more universal. They’re about the “broader aquarium of things”, as he says. In this, Isakov is a storyteller of the heart.
Gregory Alan Isakov is a long name. In the past it hasn’t fit on some showbills. People often forget his name if they don’t mispronounce it first. But for Isakov, he’s okay with this. He basks in the anonymity of his polished craft. For him the music is not about him. The performance is not about impressing the audience. For him, he is simply trusting in his craft and its effect; performing his duty on this salty earth.
When asked about his goals for this coming year, Isakov replied that he wants to finish the album that he sunk all of his money into (due out in the Spring). And he wants to buy two burros so he can ride into town.
Ask him if he is happy with his simple life and he may bring-up the question that is thrown at him as a performer, time and time again: Do you think you have made it?
“Haven’t we all made it, already?” Isakov responds.
Currently finishing his fourth album, Isakov’s work is submersed in images of loss and love and the coming and going of life; and now, the sea. He switches arrangements on nearly every track. And while he employs the whole range of traditional arrangements, from banjos and other strings and simple percussion – Isakov’s work is predicated on that one-on-one interaction between he and his guitar. He doesn’t often get “too-cocky” as he likes to say, about his arrangements. And while he keeps his movements relatively simple, there is an inherent element of complexity in his work. Mostly due to that magical interaction that occurs when Isakov picks up his guitar and begins to write – his lyrics are monstrous. Powerful. Dense and sweet and dark all at the same time.
“We threw stones at the stars, but the whole sky fell…”
In the words he sings, Isakov doesn’t appear to be from around here. But he is – just like you and I and the stars in the sky. He is man that wants to live and work, in earnest. And he is a man that will surely continue watching for the seeds of life being spread by the wind, like stars across the land. In this we are grateful to have an act of this magnitude at the tip of our noses; playing the venues that he is. Because in the end – Isakov is a major undiscovered talent – living among us, just outside of town and one turn towards the high country.
Be sure to look for Isakov (who is booked by his manager, Sarah Levin – who books bluebook and a monthly event called “Under The Hood”, held at the Walnut Room) who will be making many appearances in Denver in the coming months – both before and after his much-anticipated CD Release.
January 15th, 2007
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TurningPoint Local folk singer takes a step forward in his career by Dave Kirby (buzz@boulderweek... TurningPoint
Local folk singer takes a step forward in his career
by Dave Kirby (email@example.com)
Covering the music business as we do, we are consistently impressed by the seamless interaction of technology, craft and timing that goes into the presentation of an artist to the marketplace and the media. Home pages and MySpaces, email updates and electronic press kits, online CD hosting and fansite forums — the news on a CD release or a world tour or a Conan appearance hums across the wires with crackling digital efficiency, clean and timely and ruthlessly targeted.
So it comes as something of a relief that the press kit for Gregory Alan Isakov's CD release party at the Fox was an Office Depot CD-R in a plain cardboard sleeve, notes on the songs and contact information handwritten by Isakov's manager. His band's website shows "Under Construction — Thanks for your patience" on most of its pages. It doesn't inundate the viewer with pictures, biographical blurbs, MP3s or the usual hoopla... the technology, for once, lags behind the artistry itself. We prefer to think that slickness and glossy trappings — ultimately de rigeur at some point in the professional process — would be inappropriate as an introduction to Isakov's intimate and deeply human songcraft.
As humble as the handshake may have been, the contents of the CD belie an artist fully formed and fully realized. That Sea, The Gambler is Isakov's first "proper" CD (predated by a couple of thinly distributed EPs going back to 2003), and it will likely ratchet him higher in the national indie folk scene. Backed gently by his band, The Freight, on all but a few of the CD's 11 songs, Isakov renders his imagery-laden ballads of yearning and remembrance, loss and regret in a warm, intimate, casually literate vocal style. Comparisons have been made to Isakov's own hero Kelly Joe Phelps, and the solo-acoustic work that Springsteen escaped superstardom to produce at times in his career.
"Ring like crazy, ring like hell/turn me back into that wild haired gale/ring like silver, ring like gold/turn these diamonds straight back into coal" is how he concludes "Stable Song," one the CD's lynchpins, a paean to wisdom and letting go. Or "There's always the creaks and the strangest sounds/John Brown's body was never found/but the locals see him walkin' around..." he opens in "John Brown's Body," a prayer to our collective conscience that is simply stated and unmistakable in intent.
Isakov draws close to his subjects, withdraws, then draws close again, revealing every detail before losing himself in metaphor — and then, finally, he returns once more, ready to face the bottom line. The songs are studies in restraint and richly literate narrative, the plaintive but deceptively well-hewn vocal style murmuring at times, running short of breath on the payoff line sometimes, coyly deflecting the listeners' attention, daring them to find the sparkling dime in a sunlit pool of river pebbles.
Last Thursday night, Isakov's CDs were piled at the corner of the merch table at the Fox. It was CD Release Party night, well attended by an engaged and social crowd, and Isakov's stack shared table space with CDs by the excellent Denver-based alt-Americana band Tiny Television and Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter Chris Pureka, both of whom put on energetic and satisfying opening sets.
They created a semi-circle of chairs behind Isakov himself when it came time for him and his band to take the stage. For the uninitiated, it may have been a little tough to tell who the regular members of his group and who the guests were that night.
The CD's opener, "All There Is," likewise opened the set, a little bass drum courtesy of Freight percussionist Jen Gilleran providing the ballad a rhythmic pulse absent on the CD, followed by a more fully accompanied "Stable Song," the first time that night the real heft and potential power of Isakov's band revealed itself.
"John Brown's Body" came a few songs later, almost a country-folk epic, and it occurred to us how much the CD version suggested Isakov could pick his direction at will — fronting a very good, very song-sensitive alt-country band or working primarily as a solo artist. Or (and it's been done before by artists we wouldn't want to jinx Isakov by mentioning) doing both.
The guest artists served Isakov and The Freight well. Sally Van Meter joined up for a bruising turn at the dobro on "Black And Blue," while Flogging Molly's Bob Schmidt contributed mando lines behind the CD's title track, which rests on J.C. Thompson's solid bass riff. Justine Frischmann, former lead singer of Elastica (yes, that Elastica) and now Schmidt's neighbor in Los Angeles, came on stage and gave a stirring background vocal behind "Drank All The Wine," a new song that Isakov will include on the band's follow-up to That Sea, The Gambler.
But Isakov's real charisma came on his solo numbers, "3AM" and "The Moon Was Red And Dangerous." Without accompaniment, Isakov used the nuances of his vocal delivery to full effect.
It's been noted that Isakov can render still an entire room with the strength and subtle persuasion of his voice. The Fox can be a pretty noisy place when it's over two-thirds full (at least when the bar is open), but Isakov came close to silencing it completely on his solo numbers.
"I was stoked," a still-buzzing Isakov told us a few days later. "It was like 'the Revival,' having all those people up there. But everything came together. It went pretty well, I thought."
We thought that the band and other players added a lot of substance to the songs that was only hinted at on the record. People who came to hear the CD actually got more than they paid for.
"Yeah, we've been playing most of these songs for about a year and a half, and so many shows were just solo or with really subtle arrangements. I think we decided we'd just rock 'em out a little bit."
In some ways, the CD signifies a watershed event for Isakov as a performing artist. Better recorded and more completely produced than his EP forays, it will most likely become his calling card for broader national exposure, expanding on his local presence and the regional (mainly California) club circuit.
"It basically took a year and a half to record. Plus we were working in a studio most of the time — I was used to just recording on a four track in a barn or something. Y'know, a car goes by and, oh well, it works. It was a little intimidating being in there, being around other people watching and listening.
"I went through periods where I just hated the whole thing, wanted to start over completely, so I'd put it down for a while and then come back and it would sort of be OK again."
Isakov mentioned a follow-up CD.
"Yeah, we have another CD pretty much written at this point, and I think we'll be going in the studio in July to start recording."
We wondered if he was thinking in terms of a single — we admitted that we had trouble identifying a lead single off That Sea, The Gambler.
"Not really. I don't think in those terms. I'm kind of old school, thinking that people should just listen to the album as an album. We spent a lot of time on the sequencing just for that reason."
Isakov will be performing later this summer at Chautauqua, making a side stage appearance on Telluride Bluegrass Thursday, joining his admitted hero Kelly Joe Phelps at Swallow Hill in September and was recently added to the massive Monolith Festival lineup at Red Rocks, also in mid-September.
"That was the coolest thing," Isakov grins. "We didn't even have to ask them..."
From South Africa to Philadelphia to Denver, Isakov Triumphs
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ARTICAL FROM DENVER POST From South Africa to Philadelphia to Denver, Isakov triumphs By Ricardo...ARTICAL FROM DENVER POST
From South Africa to Philadelphia to Denver, Isakov triumphs
By Ricardo Baca
Denver Post Pop Music Critic
Gregory Alan Isakov proudly calls himself a folk artist, and while that's broadly accurate, it's also a tad limiting. Because while some music fans might not consider themselves fans of "folk," they still bow at the alters of Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird and Jolie Holland.
And now you can add Isakov to that list.
Isakov is one of those artists who experiments so much within his music that no one subgenre qualifier fits the bill exactly. So let's go with him and call his excellently varied music "folk," but also know there are tributes to alt-country, old-timey and roots in his new record "That Sea, The Gambler," which Isakov releases Thursday with a show at the Fox Theatre.
The Post caught up with the South African-born singer-songwriter
Gregory Alan Isakov releases his new CD with a show Thursday at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. (Erin Preston)
in advance of the show to talk about his foreign birthplace, his Philadelphia upbringing and his inspiration for the new record in Lyons.
Question: You go by Greg or Gregory.
Answer: Some call me Greg, others, Gregory ... My mom calls me Gregory.
Q: You were born in South Africa, but do you have any memories of living there?
A: I have tons of memories of South Africa. A lot of them are little-kid memories, like walking with my brothers and learning how to ride a bike and playing soccer. I remember elephants, water buffalo, zebra and ostriches. I recently went back there this past December. I realized how much smaller things are now than when I was little, like our old driveway ... I used to think it was miles long. Turns out, it is about 20 feet from the road.
Q: What was your childhood like growing up in Philly?
A: Growing up in Philly was hard. My family moved around a lot. We didn't have much money when we moved to the U.S., and so we shared a one-bedroom apartment. I was always into music growing up. The first record I had was "We Are the World," and I listened to it over and over again. (Michael Jackson was huge in South Africa.) In Philly, I played jazz saxophone throughout high school. I hated practicing,
Gregory Alan Isakov wrote and recorded his new record in Boulder and Lyons. (Erin Preston)
and the guitar was the thing I kept for myself. I never had a lesson. I guess I didn't want to picture some music teacher's face every time I played. So that's what stuck. I play some banjo now, too.
Q: From your experience, how do the Denver and Philly music scenes differ?
A: Not sure how the Denver and Philly music scenes differ so much. I guess I've never been part of either of them until recently. For years I just played in my room. The Denver music scene right now is so incredible, I'm constantly seeing shows that blow me away. The Wheel, Roger Green, Bela Karoli and Ian Cooke, just to name a few.
Q: Tell us a little about the new record, "That Sea, The Gambler."
A: There are a lot of "sea" songs on there. The record took an entire year, and I worked on it in between tours and whenever I possibly could. I recorded some tracks in the barn where I live out near Lyons. the rest of it I recorded in Boulder at Moja Magic Studios, with Morgan Harris engineering. The record changed course throughout making it, which is why making albums is such a magical thing. Some songs got cut, and other takes from my room got put on the record, up until the last day of mastering.
Q: What do you think of the recent proliferation of folk/roots bands, the so-called quiet movement - Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens - especially since your music could fall into that category.
A: "The quiet movement" ... I like that. I guess I've always listened to songs, the more stripped-down the better. I used to love when bands like Pearl Jam did acoustic sets, and I thought to myself, "Now why don't they do this all the time?" I don't know why it's captivating people on a larger scale these days. I used to listen to a lot of Iron & Wine, and when I saw they were on "Garden State," I thought that maybe it would change the way I feel about them. But it didn't. I still listen to them a bit.
Q: This CD release show is quite the event, and you're including a lot of people.
A: I'm really excited about the release. I'll be playing with my normal band - Jeb Bows on fiddle, Jon Souza on banjo, J.C Thompson on upright bass and Jen Gilleran on drums. Our guests that night are coming up for a song or two. Sally Van Meter will play dobro on most of them, Bob Schmidt will play on a few along with Justine Frischmann, Roger Green, Jonathan Byerley, Hello Kavita and Bela Karoli.
Q: And Bob Schmidt is from Flogging Molly and Justine Frischmann was in Elastica?
A: Yeah, I met Bob and Justine here in town. They're both pretty quiet like me. A really good friend of mine lives with Justine and nextdoor to Bob, so we got to talking about banjos and gardening, and they liked the record, so I got brave and asked him to play at the show. He said yes. Justine said the same, so since the Bill was set, I've gotten a chance to play with a real diverse group of talented people. A lot of the songs are quiet, but nothing really repeats, so rehearsals are kinda necessary. They're definitely not like bluegrass songs, where there's a standard form and a solo section and that's it. It should be a real special night.
Gregory Alan Isakov releases his CD with a host of special guests at Boulder's Fox Theatre on Thursday. Tickets, $8, available at the door or foxtheatre.com.
Pop music critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 303-954-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Folkster Saying that folk music recently experienced a resurgence in popularity is like say...The Folkster
Saying that folk music recently experienced a resurgence in popularity is like saying food recently made a comeback. Folk musicians, singer-songwriters and unplugged versions of rock bands constitute a huge swath of the music empire, one that never really goes away. But here’s the thing: If you’ve been
paying attention, folk has indeed been re-energized with unquestionable talent during the last few years. Gregory Alan Isakov, for example, is not quite at the same level as the Ray LaMontagnes of the world, but one can only imagine that Isakov’s popularity is on the verge of spreading like an out-of-control wildfire. His fourth album, That Sea, The Gambler , released this year, set into motion tides that a young, independent musician can only hope for, namely national recognition and critical appeal. Isakov’s lyrics and delivery, either by himself or with his band, The Freight, reveal an old-school folk epoch rich with fresh interpretation. (Gabe Gomez)
Gregory Alan Isakov's setlists have been changing and progressing over the past years. He rarely does covers except for some songs by Elizabeth Cotten, Greg Brown, Mississippi John Hurt, Gillian Welch and occasionally songs by Bob Dylan.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.