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James Isaak - Leper in Suburbia

Leper in Suburbia

James Isaak

Jimsfault Records

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
(progdawg@hotmail.com)

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A while back, I was enthralled with young Mr. Isaak's 2005 self-titled CD, a collection of searingly honest ground-level folk songs delivered with rare authenticity and no apologies to anyone. This time around, I'm even more thunderstruck. How on earth can anyone have improved on such a powerful debut? Well, from the softly swingin' opener, "No Place Else", on to the last of the 14 cuts, there's little doubt that the guy's a virtual fount of gracefully gritty elegance and wistful salt. Everything here is stripped down to the essentials: Isaak, his guitar, and a harmonica backed by Dave Jones' unobtrusive bass and David Stone's maddeningly effective primal drums.

JP Jones had completely revivified my somewhat waning love of folk rock last year, and Isaak is maintaining that enamorment with his even more rootsy street ruralism. Detectible are traces of James Taylor, Dylan, Seeger, McTell, Waits, and others touting a grimace and a barren tear in personal and social concerns. One might be tempted to lump in gents like Croce, McLean, Wilcox, and such, but Isaak's tone is pure lament, rarely upbeat, and his milieu the wheatfield, the bayou, and the sooty back alley, not antebellum back porches or the local pub, certainly not the gentrified Grand Ol' Opry.

Perhaps my favorite track, and it's damnably hard to pick just one, is Suits and Ties, a tune cut tributively in the mold of Lennon's Working Man's Hero but with a wry nod to Jagger & Richards' Memo to Turner (another stunner that rarely sees the light of day). Every song, though, is worthy of further performance in an intimate live studio setting on indie radio slots, the better to re-assess the latterday movement, educating ears too used to TV pap and glamfolk.

When it all comes down to it, though, it's singer-songwriters like Isaak who reawaken the understanding that there are some musicians in whom it must be, from time to time, recognized that it's not always the song but rather the person who is the art. Nothing here is in particular all that unique or unusual—it's all been heard before, carrying the very pleasant bonus of the solacing familiar—yet the whole is so riveting that that's exactly the way it seems. There are just some people who imbue what they have with a stamp so personal that one must stop, listen, reel, entranced by the intimate, the traditional, and the exotic all wrapped up in one engulfing package.

Track List:

  • No Place Else
  • Carolina
  • Where Did You Sleep
  • Suits and Ties
  • Song in G
  • Nothing to Say
  • Too Much Confusion
  • I Just Wanted You to Know
  • 30 Days, 30 Nights
  • Now is the Time
  • Leper in Suburbia
  • I Just Wanted You to Know (alternate version)
  • Now is the Time (alternate version)
  • Carolina (alternate version)

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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