January 4, 2015

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #34: Gregory Alan Isakov

Isakov 2

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.

Now’s he’s at Red Rocks with the symphony, having his most recent (magnificent and charming) music video debuted by NPR’s Bob Boilen, with Rolling Stone calling him the “Best Subtle Storm.” Perfect.

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.

Isakov 1

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.

Saint Valentine
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

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?


Gregory is out on tour in these early months of 2015 with Nathaniel Rateliff (a fellow chapel session alum), and that is going to be a pretty goddamn good pairing.

Also, just announced: Fuel/Friends is pleased to be presenting Gregory’s March 1 Colorado Springs show at Stargazers Theater! Ticket info here.

Isakov 8

Isakov 6

[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.]


  • Well, that’s lovely. Chapeau! Thanks, Heather.

    Pete — January 4, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

  • I saw GAI twice while I was preggo (Ivywild and in LA, while visiting the in-laws) and I’m so glad I got those shows in. Now I’m happy to have this session to console me, since this babe is unlikely to start cooperating with me going to a show anytime soon!

    Lashley — January 4, 2015 @ 9:26 pm

  • Just recently saw Sam Beam do a solo show with just him and his guitar in Portland, OR. He came out and just asked what did we want to hear. He played The Trapeeze Swinger and I cried it was so beautiful. This cover of it is amazing. Thank you.

    Samantha — January 4, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

  • Thank you for posting this. Universe is one of my favorites of his. I’ve seen him live 4 times & every show is absolutely wonderful. Presently, I just closed my eyes & listened to this & felt pure peace. Small story: when I run I listen to Gregory during my cool down, when my brain is being flooded with endorphins & in those small moments I feel eternal. I just feel completely alive. I know I’ll die someday, but those moments make it hard to believe. I’m so thankful for his music.

    kristi pashia — January 4, 2015 @ 10:37 pm

  • Hello from France Heather, thank you so much for this beautiful session! I had the pleasure to meet Gregory when he played Paris for the first time a few months ago. I told him I heard about his music through your blog :) You have no idea how listening to this right now is warming my heart, after the tragedy that took place in Paris yesterday..
    Thank you.

    Severine — January 8, 2015 @ 9:26 am

  • Just found this via his Facebook page, what a treat. I saw him three times last year and will see him twice more at the end of this month. Beautiful videos and recordings, thank you. And now I see one of my other favorite artists, Neil Halstead. Going to be spending plenty of time here in the future.

    Van — January 9, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

  • Beautifully written article about one of my favorites. Thank you!

    Carolyn — January 9, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

  • How lucky you are to have been there at the start of this amazing career. There is some thing about his music, it has layers that are discovered over time and I never get tired of his songs, they just grow and change. Thank you for sharing this.

    Patricia — January 9, 2015 @ 5:55 pm

  • Wow. Wow.
    His music is one of a kind. These versions are simply perfect. Your audio tech captured that perfectly. Felt like he could be playing on my living room. Best versions of the songs by far. Well done. That iron and wine cover….simply amazing. Made that song his. Now I’m going to be addicted to his entire collection on repeat…again. Thanks for this and this is why I’ve followed your blog for years. Cheers

    Aaron — January 11, 2015 @ 10:03 pm

  • […] ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ in a church (you should go download it/the entire session right here). […]

    Monday Links | songsfortheday — January 12, 2015 @ 7:30 am

  • Thx for sharing this and for your lovely article written about one of the best musicians around. His lyrics are deep and his voice beautiful. We’re blessed to have a little piece of heaven here on earth when GAI sings from his heart and soul.

    lois — January 13, 2015 @ 10:21 am

  • thank you for this session. it was flippin fantastic. just what i needed on this frigid January day.

    Nick — January 15, 2015 @ 10:38 am

  • Thank you Heather. Another fantastic piece. You’re my Music Appreciation 101, simply the best. And yeah, amazing how being ‘a little drunk’ can help deaden the troublesome vibes in the brain and crack open the door to the soul.

    Gregory Alan Isakov is a prophet of sorts – as are all sincere musicians I believe. I won’t be doing any serious traveling in the near future so I use music to take me to other places…his songs are perfect for that.

    Mark — January 18, 2015 @ 7:34 am

  • simple beautiful

    Mahmood — January 22, 2015 @ 8:03 am

  • This is epic! Thanks so much!

    I saw Gregory Alan Isakov and Nathaniel Rateliff in Chicago and it was amazing. Nathaniel Rateliff has an otherworldly voice, at times piercing and haunting.

    I’ve seen Gregory Alan Isakov alone and he was spellbinding, and with the band it was a different kind of awesome. When they were all playing it was like waves of music washing over us. Wow.

    Libby — January 24, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  • Conspicuously excellent!!!

    I will have the privilege of seeing Gregory in April… a little something to look forward to while I ignore the winter blahs!

    I’m a young adult, thriller writer and I often find myself writing the most delicate scenes to his music. It’s like the perfect mood and mind altering ‘drug’ (so to speak). Somehow it just all seems so much better when his music is sweetly swaying in the background!

    April can’t find its’ way to Vermont soon enough…

    Thank you for posting- Cheers!

    Dena Blossey — February 4, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

  • […] Gregory Alan Isakov […]

    Recents things I’ve enjoyed | Sounds and Bites — March 12, 2015 @ 11:41 am

  • Oh where, oh where has our Heather gone too?

    el bandito — March 26, 2015 @ 11:26 am

  • You are missed

    Glenn — March 26, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

  • Is this blog dead?
    If so I hope maybe someday Heather reads this.
    I just wanted to thank her for the years and years of musical discoveries and great mixes.
    I still listen to her seasonal mixes and theme mixes she created (Sounds Dangerous, Winona Ryder, Open Road).
    I appreciate all she did to open up new types of music to me.
    I still hold hope we haven’t heard the last of her and her music.

    Neil — March 28, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  • We miss you Heather!

    Doug — April 7, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

  • I’ve been introduced to so much great music from here. I have been checking this site for years. Thank you for all the hidden gems and mixes. PS – please start posting again!!!! It’s sorely missed.

    Matt — May 17, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

  • Heather – I am 66 years old so you can’t be me reincarnated, but almost … your musical taste and mine are so in sync it’s amazing. I don’t even know how I got here, but WOW! I’ve already discovered most of the artists you’ve covered through dogged trolling around every vaguely Indie site on the Internet, pretty much, CD Baby, that sort of thing. So, I own a LOT of Indie albums, but the Chapel Sessions are unique — I think I just jammed your server downloading them. There’s nothing quite like an acoustic recording. Thank you, thank you. BTW I’m an Australian and have to tell you we have some BRILLIANT Indie talent down here, many of whom do go to the States on tour. Would be interesting to hear your views on some of them.


    Robin — July 15, 2015 @ 8:31 am

  • Thank you so much for helping to share and spread amazing music! I’ve become a fan of Gregory Alan Isakov because I stumbled across the video of “The Trapeze Swinger” on YouTube (also, I’ve become an Iron & Wine fan as well)! I can’t get enough and have made it a goal to try to see him live somewhere hopefully within the next year! Thank you again!

    David — December 16, 2015 @ 8:25 pm

  • Beautifully written article about one of my favorites. Thank you!

    Rahul — April 7, 2016 @ 2:18 am

  • […] a hurry just listen to his cover of Iron & Wine’s ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ for Fuel/Friends’ Chapel Session series and tell us you aren’t a […]

    Gregory Alan Isakov unveils 'Liars' from new album with The Colorado Symphony — May 18, 2016 @ 12:53 pm

  • The link to the download is not working :( is this music no longer available?!?

    joe — July 1, 2016 @ 4:30 pm


    John — August 11, 2016 @ 8:28 am

  • Is there a lossless copy of this available for the audiophiles out there?

    Luke A — August 30, 2018 @ 8:43 am

  • Where can I get a copy of Gregory Alan Isakov’s cover of The Trapeze Swinger? Pretty much an emergency. Will very likely die if I can’t have it.
    Thanks for all this wonderful music!!

    Reina — October 23, 2018 @ 5:57 pm

  • Muito obrigado pela música!

    Kaleb — October 30, 2018 @ 9:59 am

  • Trapeze Swinger – an amazing cover of an amazing song. I found it on YouTube; thank you so much for sharing the mp3 – it will get a workout on my phone!

    Vorn — November 27, 2018 @ 6:57 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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