On the surface, Chris Isaak hasn’t progressed a helluva lot since he first burst on the scene 20-plus years ago, with his Elvis good looks, Sun rockabilly flair and that amazing voice that moves so effortlessly from ethereal Roy Orbison wails to smooth crooning and edgier tonalities. But anyone who has fairly paid close attention—and I count myself among that group—has seen so much growth in Isaak’s songwriting through the years, and his always excellent band has evolved with him. I always chuckle when I see a “Greatest Hits” collection from someone who has had few true commercial hits, but I have to admit, this 15-song collection of songs from different parts of Isaak’s career is splendidly chosen and it really does have many of the songs I would have chosen.
With the exception of three bonus tracks, this appeared originally as part of PBS’s superb Soundstage series, so you’d expect the sound and visuals to be of the highest quality, and they are. The group’s spare, delicate arrangements are beautifully captured in the audio mix, and the video editing flows so nicely with the music—no fancy, distracting quick cuts here. Fans will want to know that Isaak’s trademark dry, deadpan humor is on display in a few instances between songs, but mostly it’s him and his band playing faithful rock-solid versions of a slew of great tunes, including “Wicked Game” (of course), “Dancin’,” the gorgeous “Let Me Down Easy,” the moody “Blue Hotel,” his perfect take on Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and his longtime showstopper “Diddley Daddy.” In mid-set there’s a wonderful semi-unplugged segment that has the relaxed vibe of his Baja Sessions CD (a personal favorite)—love the version of “Western Stars” here! But the whole thing is first-rate, and should be eagerly devoured by CI true believers, and impress many who many not be familiar with his singular oeuvre, which always feels warmly familiar, yet still somehow original.
And if you don’t already own his Christmas album and/or DVD, which is one of the best by any artist in recent years, pick it up now so you’ll have it for the holidays!
Produced and directed by Joe Thomas. Audio recording: Mike Czaszwicz, Jim Mancini, Frank Pappalardo. Mix by Thomas and Pappalardo.
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