Vintage-inspired singer/songwriter Chris Isaak has periodically attempted to update his '50s and '60s-influenced sound. Albums like 2002's Always Got Tonight and 2009's Mr. Lucky found the California native incorporating funk grooves, modern rock guitars, and the occasional synthesizer. Despite these moves toward contemporizing his pompadour-accented approach however, Isaak's best work, even on those albums, is always on the tracks where he embraces his old-school aesthetics and delivers melodic, twangy songs in his signature goosebump-inducing croon. This is the approach Isaak takes on his 13th studio album, 2015's First Comes the Night. Technically, the album is Isaak's first collection of all original music since Mr. Lucky, but stylistically, this record has more in common with his 2011 tribute to Sun Records, Beyond the Sun. As with that album, First Comes the Night has a vintage rock & roll vibe with songs that will play just as well to longtime Isaak fans as to listeners who only know him from his 1990 hit "Wicked Game." Recorded in Nashville, the album was produced by Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride), Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Shooter Jennings), and longtime Isaak associate Mark Needham. Despite its Nashville origin, First Comes the Night is not entirely a country album, though Isaak does touch on that sound here. Cuts like the yearning, piano-driven "The Way Things Really Are" and the bopping, darkly humorous "Down in Flames" sound like long lost Bob Luman hits. Primarily, however, the songs on this record are '50s and '60s-style pop tunes driven by Isaak's smoky vocal and devil-eyed lyrics. The title track is one of the most archetypical Isaak-sounding tracks he's recorded in years, recalling a mix of the Traveling Wilburys and the Righteous Brothers. Similarly, "Perfect Lover," with its rollicking rhythm and mariachi-esque horn section, finds Isaak paying tribute once again to Roy Orbison and Willie Nelson. There are also some surprises on First Comes the Night, including the Gypsy jazz-style "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and the circusy "Don't Break My Heart," which brings to mind the kitschy soundtrack to an Elvis movie. While First Comes the Night doesn't break any new stylistic ground for Isaak, it also doesn't hurt his reputation, and deftly reinforces his image as a glamorous, charming torchbearer for traditional pop songcraft.
© Matt Collar /TiVo