The Weatherman by Gregory Alan Isakov (Suitcase Town Music, 2013. 41 minutes)
Gregory Alan Isakov is a singer-songwriter. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, he immigrated to the United States as a child, and was raised in Philadelphia. He began touring with a band at the age of 16 and has been influenced most by the music of Leonard Cohen, Kelly Joe Phelps and Bruce Springsteen. He now resides in Colorado.
I was sitting in my car driving down the road in the middle of the night. I knew there were a few albums that I needed to get into, so I put on Isakov’s newest release, The Weatherman. I found it a suitable audio journey as I braved the dark freeways of the night. At the same time, I found that Isakov’s previously brave, heavy mellow sound had mellowed even further into the mainstream folk. While at first disheartening, he still finds a way to push his own agenda, his own sound, and his own lyrical genius of sorts. He still has a tranquil, soul bearing sound that doesn’t disappoint.
With anything that is in the singer-songwriter genre, the lyrics are paramount. Isakov seems to have a wonderful grip on this idea, and his lyrics are the powerhouse behind every one of his songs. Perhaps the greatest reason for the introspective lyrics is that Isakov is a self proclaimed drifter. Originally born in South Africa, Isakov has drifted his way to the low key alpine town of Boulder, Colorado, where he spends much of his time working on his garden. Anyone who gardens knows that the ponderings of the soul are bound to take place while pulling weeds and the like. And, anyone who gardens knows cursing is an often used part of the vernacular, much like in “Saint Valentine”. Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, doesn’t have it all together according to Isakov.
“Well Grace she is gone she’s a half written poem
She went out for cigarettes and never came home
And I swallowed the sun and screamed and wailed
Straight down to the dirt so I could find her trail
Well I just came to talk Saint Valentine
I never pictured you living here
With the rats and the vines
Ain’t that my own heart
Hanging out on the line?
Oh you’re all fucked up
Simplicity is Beauty
More than his earthy, deep lyrics, Isakov has a knack for finding beauty in the mundane. He exposes everyday beauty throughout the entirety of the album, telling the listener to pay attention to what surrounds; it’s more important than you think. He feeds warmth and intimacy through every lyric, and every simply strummed chord. In “O’ City Lights”, Isakov adds to his simple melodies with some stringed instruments, a synth, and the singer-songwriter’s favorite instrument, the banjo.
“Maria’s stoned like a porcelain saint
curls a smile when the sadness hits
finds my face with fingertips”
In a more upbeat, folky vibe, “Suitcase Full of Sparks” provides a classic Isakovian sound. Reminding me of his previous album, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, I’m thrilled that someone knows how to provide a wonderful sound without working too hard.
“I picked up all the arrowheads off buffalo trails of the Indians
the Oklahoma sky was cutting through
along the tracks with the Runaway,
he just talks and talks and talks
honey, I’m just trying to find my way to you
I quit counting stars that night in the cold by the satellite field
and I quit panning gold,
yeah, I’m just trying to find my way to you”
With a voice that reminds me of José González with its velvety richness, Isakov has found the musical sweet-spot. Isakov has managed to surpass his previous album in musical complexity and richness without going overboard. There is a rawness and simplicity here that should be strived for by all musicians. Isakov bears the soul in The Weatherman, and it’s worth taking a drive late at night to discover the beauty within.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5