Oh, where do I start with this one? Gregory Alan Isakov has grown over the last decade from a soft-spoken friend that I would see playing his winsome, warm songs at dozens of small shows, into one of Colorado’s genuine state treasures. I have a collection of little cardboard-sleeved, hand-stamped EPs and early recordings from Gregory (“all songs written by me and recorded to 8-track on a thursday morning in my room, Boulder, CO“) dating back to 2003.
One thing I have always loved about Gregory and his music since the first time I heard it is the hint of sly joy that underlies everything he seems to sing. I almost feel like I can feel a shy, candescent smile just waiting at the corner of his lips.
He writes rambling songs that really stab at a certain heart of foolish beauty that exists all the time in the world around us, but that I am often too hurried to see, much less to give it the attention it deserves. He weaves words together into perceptive lyrics that I can’t get enough of, songs that skiffle and flicker as they grow slowly.
In this session, Gregory and his band performed three songs from their latest (2013) album The Weatherman, and one stunningly jaw-dropping cover of one of my favorite songs ever written. So, you know. That was alright.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #34:
GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV
January 9, 2014
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
Suitcase Full Of Sparks
This song speaks directly to the always-gnawing wanderlust that sometimes hides under the ashes in me, but that is always ready to be stoked by this wide, wild world around us. It makes me want to do nothing more than head off onto a roadtrip — anywhere that promises campfires, or even better, an ocean. Gregory’s wanderings here are trying to find their way to someone, but I find the song works just as well for me if we think that the someone we are rambling everywhere trying to find is ourselves.
A song for mostly-misremembered Roman saints, and also for banjo-plucking dancing around in the pouring rain. Also notable in this song is the great delight I get from such an old-timey sounding folk song that contains the line “while the girls in the glass, they’re just throwing me shade.” Aw, poor Gregory.
the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful…
JESUS. Here’s to that.
The Trapeze Swinger (Iron & Wine)
Welp. I sat in stunned silence when Gregory suggested this song as his cover. The original is one of my top five songs ever — this baffling, beautiful, confused, peaceful elegy that feels like it never started and will never end. I wrote about this song once five years ago; I might have been a little drunk when I wrote it, but I said (and I still believe):
I remember a book from when I was about ten years old, something like A Wrinkle In Time or one of those fascinating imaginative visions of other worlds and things unseen. My brain stretches hard to recall a passage about tapping into a current of singing that existed outside of normal time, these pulsing jetstreams of melody and poetry and all the human longing – timeless and universal. Always there. Not always heard.
When I listen to “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine, that’s the closest I can come to expressing its perfection. It sounds like waking from a dream on your front porch in the late afternoon in springtime — or maybe not waking at all, but being suspended. Somewhere where, for once, you can hear the currents. “Please remember me, happily, by the rosebush laughing, with bruises on my chin….” the song begins, all golden beauty and purplish contusions from the first lines.
Gregory does 100% justice to the original, in the noble hesitation, in the smiles around the edges of his voice, and with the gorgeous golden guitar solo in the middle. Man, oh man.
Who the hell can see forever?
DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV CHAPEL SESSION
[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle, who nearly died a thousand deaths of joy photographing this session. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]