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.]

January 16, 2012

I told myself it was all something in her / but as we drove I knew it was something in me

This happened tonight not far from my home in Colorado. Gregory Alan Isakov is a state treasure, and I am a sucker for Springsteen covers that make me take in my breath sharply when I really should be sleeping.

April 10, 2009

Gregory Alan Isakov & Brandi Carlile: “That Moon Song”


Gregory Alan Isakov is a South African-born, Philly-raised musician whose music is all tones of sepia and creeping warmth. He’s recommended for folks who appreciate warmly intelligent, rich songwriting like Jeffrey Foucault or Josh Ritter. Now living in Colorado, we are proud to call him an adopted native son.  I love  the sly sincerity in his voice, like he knows a secret that’s making him smile.

Today I absolutely cannot stop listening to this new song from his forthcoming album This Empty Northern Hemisphere (due May 19). Not only does it blend all the scratchy, old time feelings that I love from him, but he is joined by friend Brandi Carlile on backing vocals! Together, they are perfect.  I never do get tired of her strong, clear voice.

That Moon Song (w/ Brandi Carlile) – Gregory Alan Isakov

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that full-bellied moon, just a-shining on me
and she pulls on this heart like she pulls on the sea


Last time I saw Gregory, he was wowing the sold-out Calexico crowd; I look forward to his record release party on May 15th. He is currently on tour with Ms. Carlile (*starred dates) and in them Netherlands.

Apr 10 Alltel Center – Mankato, MN*
Apr 11 Hoyt Sherman Theatre – Des Moines, IA*
Apr 14 Wheeler Opera House - Aspen, CO*
Apr 16 Meadowlark: Netherlands’ Tour Sendoff - Denver, CO
Apr 17 Platte Canyon High School - Bailey, CO
Apr 18 Everyday Joe’s  - Fort Collins, CO

Apr 24 De Bosuil - Weert, Limburg
Apr 25 Muziekpodium Bakkeveen - Bakkeveen, Friesland
Apr 26 House Concert - Bakkeveen, Friesland
Apr 27 Crossroads Radio - Bergen op Zoom
Apr 28 Q-Bus - Leiden, Zuid-Holland
Apr 29 Korsakoff - Amsterdam
May 2 Shouting Boots Radio Show (Afternoon) - Hilversum
May 2 In The Woods – Lage Vuursche
May 3 Huis Verloren - Hoorn, Noord-Holland

May 15 Fox Theatre: CD Release w/ Bela Karoli & The Widow’s Bane – Boulder, Colorado
May 19 The Belcourt Theatre – Nashville*
May 20 Eddie’s Attic – Decatur, Georgia*
May 22 WorkPlay Theatre – Birmingham, Alabama*
May 23 Blue Gills – Spanish Fort, Alabama*
May 24 House Of Blues -  New Orleans, Louisiana*
May 27 House Of Blues – Houston, Texas*
May 28 Gruene Hall – San Antonio, Texas*
May 29 Granada Theater – Dallas, Texas*
May 30 Texas Union Th. @ Univ. Of Texas – Austin, Texas*

* with Brandi Carlile

RELATED POST:I belong to the salt and the sea and the stars, save them all for me.”
[song news via my friend Bodie’s blog, The Mountain Tempo. Photo by Todd Roeth, again. I should hire him as my intern]

December 11, 2008

Rustic warmth and seeping wistfulness

The honest, richly-spun folk of up-and-coming local musician Gregory Alan Isakov captivated a packed house in Denver last week as he opened for the Calexico show. I’ve written about the marvelous skiffle of Isakov’s “The Salt and The Sea” tune before, and have been appreciated the bright talent of this local artist in several venues across Colorado this year. I love to hear Gregory sing; his voice is really something special in the singer-songwriter pantheon, with hints of sly knowing, balanced with a warm and soaring verve.

“Gonna write one for you, the unwritable girl . . .”

Unwritable Girl – Gregory Alan Isakov
[from his 2007 album That Sea, The Gambler]

All pictures of Gregory’s set with Calexico are here.

Isakov is playing again this Friday night at Boulder’s B-Side Lounge with Wisconsin folk artist Peter Mulvey. If you haven’t heard Mulvey’s songs before, you should take a listen to this collaborative set that he recorded on WPLN with two other excellent Americana songwriters in the same vein: Jeffrey Foucault and Chris Smither. I’ve listened to this set many times when I need an infusion of something weighty and authentic.

In addition to a cover of “Buckets of Rain” that gets me every single time, this set also includes one of my favorite sad songs of the last few years, “Northbound 35.”

Train Home – Chris Smither

29 Cent Head – Peter Mulvey
Stripping Cane – Jeffrey Foucault

Lola – Chris Smither

Stranded in a Limousine – Peter Mulvey

Northbound 35 – Jeffrey Foucault
**highest rec**
Crocodile Man – Chris Smither
Shirt – Peter Mulvey

Secretariat – Jeffrey Foucault

Outside In – Chris Smither

The Road To Mallow – Peter Mulvey

Buckets of Rain (Dylan) – Jeffrey Foucault


TICKETS: Gregory Alan Isakov with Peter Mulvey
Friday, Dec 12 – B-Side Lounge in Boulder

[audio via]

August 4, 2008

Sensational sounds coming out of Denver right now

I return from the warm and open arms of the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase this weekend with an invigorated and genuine excitement about the music that is being made in this fine state. I heard some incredible stuff. Even if you live nowhere near Denver, take a listen to what my weekend was like because there are acts that I feel could be nationally noteworthy right now out of the Denver scene.

The festival was a screaming success on the sweltering hot streets. Even after going to about a jillion large-scale music festivals, I’ve never yet been to one that was so cohesive, well-constructed, and uniquely local. The model for this weekend should be recreated at cities around the world who don’t already have something like this in place. As they say, “because your life needs a soundtrack, and because your life is richer and more rewarding when that soundtrack reflects where you live.”

Just a few of the most vivid Fuel/Friends highlights of the weekend:

Young Coyotes at Indy Ink. The buzz on the street after this trio performed with no mics in a small independent print shop was deafening. Tipped by some as having the potential to be the next huge band out of Denver, the Young Coyotes were everything I’d hoped for and more, with their ferocious primal drum backbone (two guys playing), chimey melodies, and shout-out-loud vocals that made my blood pulse hot and happy. I was singing this song for the rest of the day:

When I Was In The Fire – Young Coyotes

Chain Gang of 1974 at the Rule Gallery of Contemporary and Modern Art. In a starkly cool setting, this duo transformed the room into a dance party where our biggest concern became trying not fall into the artwork. I’ve never danced in a gallery before, but this stuff was absolutely irresistible. The drummer from Young Coyotes reprised his awesomeness for this set too. Make sure to catch them at Monolith.

The Dirt – The Chain Gang of 1974

Hearts of Palm at the Hi-Dive. I was struck by how passionate and vocal a following this collective has, obviously due to how enthusiastically they give back to us all. The Hi-Dive was humid and electric, echoing along with everyone singing at the top of their lungs, “We have no water here and everybody knows it!!” That may have been the first time I’d seen a local band with that degree of communal singalong support. They played most, if not all, of their newest free EP and blew us all away.

No Water – Hearts of Palm

Everything Absent Or Distorted (plus friends) at the CarToys outdoor stage. Although it was a bit of bad news for my friends trying to coordinate this fest, the cops were called on the noise levels for the outdoor stage shortly before the Everything Absent Or Distorted collective came on with some additional members. But maybe it’s not really a party until someone calls the cops. EAOD played their widescreen, angular indie rock, those fluid melodies mixed with an on-edge sensibility. They then tantalized this cover-loving girl with a handful of great ones, including early Arcade Fire (a sound not too far removed from their own) and “Glad Girls” by Guided by Voices.

The Exit Parade – Everything Absent Or Distorted

Aaron Collins @ Rock The Cradle. A boutique that hawks Johnny Cash onesies, retro board games and Nine Inch Nails lullaby cover CDs, Rock The Cradle caters to the hip parent crowd. One of the first shows I saw on Friday afternoon was Machine Gun Blues’ Aaron Collins performing (clothed, so as not to scare the younguns) a melodic and charming solo set. His unselfconscious use of repeated words to underscore a kind of vocal percussion, along with his elegant and shimmering keyboard melodies made me hope that he continues in this vein even if Machine Gun Blues is almost defunct.

Rachael Pollard and friends at the Kabal Rug Kilm. Speaking of Nine Inch Nails covers, a highly unlikely one (“Down In It” done like a 1930s flapper?!) popped up at the most gorgeously cool venue of the weekend. This loft-like Persian rug gallery was temporarily converted into a singer-songwriter stage for solo artists and some fantastic collaborations, such as this one with Pollard, Gregory Alan Isakov and Julie Davis from Bela Karoli. While we lounged around on stacks of $35,000 rugs (don’t spill that beer), a steady stream of Colorado musicians plucked, strung, and hummed their lovely songs. It all took on a near-mystical air in that setting. The festival did an exceptional job of lining up original groupings of artists collaborating with those from other bands, which lent a great spirit of local pride and the making of something unique together.

Crazy For You – Rachael Pollard (charming little song)

Stop Making Sense flickering on a brick wall. Very late Saturday night, you could hear David Byrne’s voice ringing up and down the boulevard from the parking lot of an otherwise dark bank, forgotten at that hour of fiscal irresponsibility. The folks at the Denver Film Society arranged a guerilla screening of the Jonathan Demme classic, and it was simply beautiful. Until the sprinklers came on, and then everyone just moved back and it was still beautiful, just wet.

Burning Down The House (Stop Making Sense live version) – Talking Heads

Everyone who played in the South Broadway Christian Church. This was another gorgeous venue staffed by incredibly cheerful and kind church members. I almost expected a covered-dish potluck. The acoustics were crystalline, the surroundings divine. Using the church was a great idea, and I hear God totally didn’t even mind.

Sputnik Motown brunch and the Velvet Elvis pancake breakfast. A good festival loves you from the time you arrive until the time you leave, especially when you are at your most vulnerable. When the morning comes with its dreadfully bright light, you need a greasy breakfast — and you don’t want to have to work for it. Both days we ate like royalty, first at Sputnik with the DJ spinning a vast and amazingly impressive collection of Motown 7″ records, and then Sunday at 3 Kings with a live Elvis cover band, bottomless mimosas, and fresh-made pancakes from a little griddle behind the bar. O, that I could have my breakfasts soundtracked every morning by “Hunka Hunka Burnin Love” and “Hound Dog.” [pic via]

And as is always the case, there were dozens of bands I didn’t get a chance to see, and some I’ll be featuring in greater depth at a later date (many are playing the Meadowlark Fest Aug 21-23). Whew! I’m exhausted.

Let’s do it again next weekend.

VISUALS: All my pics with some commentary here and here, and ahh, look at all the *lovely* people!

June 6, 2007

News of the day

Ûž San Francisco musician/funny guy Matt Nathanson has a new song streaming over at his MySpace. Check out “Gone” in all its Goo-Goo-glory, a wrenching new song with a strong melody.

Matt writes some background on the song: “this song was tracked all at once, live… and this was the 3rd or 4th pass through. i vividly remember looking out into the tracking room while i was singing this, and seeing everyone completely in it. hunched over their instruments, eyes closed…entrenched in the words and the motion of the song. riding it like a wave. just absolutely KILLING it!… i hadn’t really experienced that kind of connection, that kind of communication, in the studio before… 6 people working like one. and the yearning and the desperation of the lyric totally came through them. through us…”

The deeply good new album Some Mad Hope will be out August 14th on Vanguard Records.

Ûž I am featured again on the newest Contrast Podcast #62: Seas, Oceans, and All Things Marine. My contribution was that fantastic song by Colorado artist Gregory Alan Isakov, “The Salt and The Sea.” It’s his love song to the Pacific Ocean, and mine.

Ûž The Format, who are one of the best bands I’ve seen live, have just announced a new headlining tour. It concludes in Colorado Sept 7th. Dates are on their MySpace, and you should absolutely go.

Ûž Finally, just one album a year for Ryan Adams is never enough (even though that’s A-OK with me). Lost Highway announced yesterday that there is a chance they will put out a Ryan Adams box set, with unreleased materials from the 48 Hours and Suicide Handbook “albums,” live songs from the Bedheads, and cuts from the Easy Tiger sessions.

If you preorder the (very strong) Easy Tiger album now, you get a bonus CD containing a live version of the song “These Girls,” which I got to hear on the album the other day. The most exciting news for me is that the song These Girls is actually a re-working of forgotten cast-off tune “Hey There Mrs. Lovely” from the ’99/2000 era, a song that I have long adored. The lyrics are different, and I am not sure if I like them as much as the original, but it is still a great-sounding song. The first 100 preorders also get a signed 7″:

April 15, 2007

I belong with the salt and the sea and the stones…save them all for me

Last weekend I was very pleased with myself that I managed to be on time to a concert (for once) and catch the very first opening band because it was Gregory Alan Isakov — and he turned out to be the best of the three acts that night.

Originally from South Africa, raised in Philadelphia (and he did a hometown taping there Tuesday night for the World Cafe on NPR), and now living in Colorado, Gregory nonetheless transcends geographical boundaries with this tune that he calls “a love song to the Pacific Ocean.” It’s unassuming and wonderful — a shuffling jazzy beat, bold bass line, effervescent strumming . . . I close my eyes and I can literally almost see the ocean lapping at my toes when I hear this. Being the Pacific, the water’s cold, as usual.

Salt And The Sea – Gregory Alan Isakov & The Freight

This is from his 2007 EP, self-titled. Another version of it was also on his 2005 EP Songs For October. Gregory has several record release concerts coming up in June for his new album, including ones in Denver, SF, Portland, and the lovely North Bay town of Sausalito in California. He’s one of those singer-songwriter types, yeah, but his lyrics are noteworthy in their warmth and richly sweeping scope, with tones of dusky-twilight Americana like Jeffrey Foucault or Josh Ritter (although on this tune he kinda pulls a fantastic Sinatra).

April 6, 2007

Brushfire Records prepares to liberate the animals, orchestrally (with ALO)

Santa Barbara, California good-time jam band Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) is preparing to release their newest album on May 1st, their second on Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records label. Entitled Roses & Clover, it’s the follow-up to last year’s Fly Between Falls, and a short video is available showing the band in (and around) the studio during the making of the album:
[Windows Media] [Quicktime]

This new track surprised me when it started, with the striking piano chords, the expansiveness of the Eagles, and the lyrics about Maria which made my thoughts flash briefly to the Counting Crows. I am very much looking forward to hearing the rest of this album (other tunes are described as “ukulele-led funk workout” and “sun-drenched reggae-tinged” tracks) if this is any indication:

Maria – ALO

A headlining U.S. tour with ALO kicks off on Cinco de Mayo at the San Francisco Fillmore.

And despite some crazy random APRIL snow showers today (?!) I am planning to head up to Denver tonight to see Peter & The Wolf at the Hi-Dive (with two great others, Saddle Creek’s Maria Taylor, and local Gregory Alan Isakov). My pal Dainon originally recommended Peter & The Wolf to me, and since then I have been wanting to catch his live show, which I hear is superb. This scratchy A.M. radio-goodness tune from him is pretty close to perfect:

Silent Movies – Peter & The Wolf

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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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