What a wicked game Judge Dave Ryan plays, to make you feel that way...
Our reviews of Chris Isaak: Baja Sessions (published September 8th, 2004), Chris Isaak Christmas (published November 26th, 2008), and Chris Isaak: Live / Greatest Hits (Blu-ray) (published January 5th, 2012) are also available.
The pride of Stockton takes the SoundStage stage!
It's kind of hard to believe that Chris Isaak has been around for twenty-five years now. Twenty-five years of his distinctively retro blend of Roy Orbison and Chet Atkins; twenty-five years of his Elvis suits and his witty (and copious) stage banter; twenty-five years of quirky TV and movie appearances.
Back in '85, Isaak was just an obscure kid from a working-class background with a single album that had gotten him virtually no mainstream attention. But he apparently had at least one fan—a guy named David Lynch. Lynch used Isaak's "Gone Ridin'" and "Livin' For Your Lover" in his distinctively retro Blue Velvet, and suddenly people were paying attention. Isaak's album Silvertone started to sell, and even spawned a minor MTV hit, "Dancin'." It was in 1990, however, that Isaak found his greatest commercial success—again, thanks to Lynch. Lynch used a couple of songs from Isaak's then-most-recent (and, of course, commercially unsuccessful) album Heart-Shaped World in his follow-up to Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart. One of the songs used was an instrumental version of a haunting, tremolo-soaked little track called "Wicked Game," which had been unsuccessfully released as the second single from the album in 1989. While the film itself had a decidedly mixed reception from audiences, the song—prominently used in commercials for the film—took off. Re-released as a very late single (the album had been out for over a year at the time), the song peaked at number six on the charts. A Herb Ritts-directed video featuring Isaak cavorting in the surf with a nearly-naked Helena Christensen didn't hurt the song's popularity, either.
Since then, Isaak has done some acting (Silence of the Lambs, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Little Buddha), had his own Showtime series (The Chris Isaak Show), and has put out nine albums. But he hasn't changed one bit. He's still the same incredibly likeable guy-next-door making all the girlies' hearts melt with that butter-smooth falsetto.
This Isaak performance for PBS's SoundStage, recorded in 2005, is a fair representation of Isaak's catalog. The track list is as follows:
Bonus tracks included as an extra feature:
• Goin' Nowhere
It's not a perfect representation of Isaak's catalog—for one thing, it's too short at 68 minutes and 15 songs (including the three bonus tracks). It also gives short shrift to the more aggressive-sounding tracks from Isaak's earlier albums, making the show feel a little more laid back than a "real" Isaak live show. Also, I wish Isaak had dropped "Notice the Ring," which is basically a jauntier re-write of "Wrong to Love You," and added something stylistically different—maybe "Two Hearts" or "Somebody's Crying." But that's somewhat nitpicky on my part. The setlist really does do a good job of displaying Isaak's musical versatility—he moves effortlessly from the ethereal echos of "Wicked Game" to Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely" to the Buck Owens-y honky-tonk of "American Boy" (the theme to the Showtime series) to the gritty stomp of Bo Diddly's "Diddly Daddy."
The original SoundStage episode was recorded in high definition video, so you would expect picture and sound to be exemplary. And so it is. The widescreen anamorphic video transfer is clean and very sharp. Sound is offered in a stock stereo mix and a competent but unspectacular 5.1 surround mix. The surround mix does an excellent job with sound reproduction, but doesn't create much of a sound space. As noted above, three additional tracks not used in the original broadcast are included as extra features. They're all good songs, too—not "throwaways" by any means. But, like most of Isaak's songs, they're pretty short.
This is a quality disc that's a good sampler of Isaak's music, and is therefore recommended. However, you'd still be better off just going to see him live—he puts on an excellent show, and usually plays for at least two hours, so you definitely get value for your money. I don't think you'll have to wait a long time to see him, either—I get the feeling that Chris will be out there singing and twanging for as long as he can stand upright.
Not guilty. (Not that we could do a thing to stop him, of course.)
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