Album Review: Gregory Alan Isakov – With The Colorado Symphony

 

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There’s a rich longing in the musical world of Gregory Alan Isakov that surpasses a folk singer with boots, some sort of western/cowboy-esque hat, and an acoustic guitar. Isakov’s songs are the gentlest, bonfire calming, sleep playlist soothing jewels that are the recipe for a perfect cure to any stressful mindset. His latest project aims to dig deeper into this singer/songwriter with a microphone and maybe a harmonica for a song or two vibe. Isakov’s latest release is an eleven-track masterpiece in which he revisits three songs from The Weatherman, four songs from This Empty Northern Hemisphere and three songs from That Sea, The Gambler with the magical, colourful and bright overtones of The Colorado Symphony.

The first song on the album is the only new title on the record. Liars is a song written by Isakov’s friend Ron Scott, and now Isakov has arranged and shaped it into his own tune, completing it’s hauntingly beautiful mellow themes with a big, bold and colorful symphony sound. The song begins with a fingerpicking guitar track backed by strings and symphonic beauty and then the track becomes the backup guitar track as Isakov’s rhythmic strumming enters and he palm mutes the chords to complement the fingerpicking. The most captivating moment in the song is the bridge three minutes in which features a volume boost and musical overdrive on all the tracks. Not overdrive in the sense of distortion but mainly an intense, emotionally heavy strong finish to a very profound song.

Big Black Car is a highlight on this record, with a fifteen second orchestral introduction before Greg’s fingerpicking leads into the familiar guitar melody that begins the song on its original album. Greg also sings the word “phonograph” differently on this album, as he speeds the “ono” instead of extending it “ooooono” like he does on his earlier album This Empty Northern Hemisphere. Amsterdam is another track that contains some new elements, such as an acoustic, fingerpicking introduction. Most of the orchestra backing contains repeated themes of Greg’s song but in a big band symphony form but on Amsterdam the orchestra adds some new melodies and structures that make this version almost sound like a brand new song.

Greg shows the true flawless beauty and unmatched intimate powerful vocals throughout the album but especially on Master & A Hound. My favorite moment on the entire album is when Greg belts outs “the snow blowin rounddddd” and the orchestra accompanies him. My favorite song on the album and probably all time favorite Gregory Alan Isakov song is Saint Valentine. On this version he speeds it up a bit from The Weatherman version. Something about this song sped up just a tiny bit makes it that much more intriguing and catchy and work impeccably.

There’s an electric guitar track in Living Proof that almost completely makes the song an “electric version” but the trained ear can hear the acoustic rhythm as the backing track. Complete with violins, cellos and upright bass overtones this track helps listeners remember the living proof of Isakov’s songwriting and arranging genius. Whether he stands alone onstage with a guitar, is surrounded by a few other acoustic instruments or a full symphony, Gregory Alan Isakov is a master of his songwriting craft, and with the Colorado Symphony’s embellishments on his newest album, this folk legend is injected with a wonderful orchestral boost.

Scott J. Herman