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Chris Isaak

First Comes the NIght – 2015 (Vanguard)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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CDs by Chris Isaak

Chris Isaak is something of a renaissance man. In addition to being a talented singer and songwriter, he's an actor, guest-starring in popular television shows like "Friends" and "Hot in Cleveland"; he even had his own series on Showtime in the early 2000's. He's been in movies with Michelle Pfieffer, Jodie Foster and Tom Hanks. He's done some voice-overs, and he was recently named as a judge on "The X Factor Australia." But the truth is even if the man cured cancer tomorrow, his eventual tombstone is still going to read RIP Chris "Wicked Game" Isaak. Nobody whoever heard that haunting melody or sweated their way through that Herb Ritts-directed video of Isaak and topless supermodel Helena Christensen cavorting on the world's cloudiest beach is ever going to let anything else replace that in their memory.

Which frees Isaak up to do whatever kind of music he wants to do. Like emulate Elvis on "Don't Break My Heart" and not the classic Elvis, but the 60's movies Elvis - think "Harum Scarm" not "Heartbreak Hotel." Setting his sights a little higher, Isaak somehow manages to channel Roy Orbison on "Perfect Lover," not an easy thing to do, just ask any of the millions of singers who have tried. "Dry Your Eyes" is about a guy hanging on to a girl who can't let go of someone in her past.

Speaking of dry eyes, the theme here seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. There are a lot of songs about loss and heartache, but not hopelessness, as on the title track where even in the depths of day-long despair Isaak realizes "It ain't always gonna feel this way" or on "Some Days Are Harder Than The Rest," one of five tracks available on the deluxe edition of this album. This theme is never more evident than on "Down in Flames" a rockabilly number about a man contemplating death and damnation ("Add up all my misbehaving / And I'm past the point of saving / Even in this noisy barroom, I can hear that long black train"), but it's just so upbeat and catchy and fun it might - for 2 minutes and 57 seconds anyway - make listeners say "Helena who?"