At what point does an artist have so many influences on display that he rises above them to become something completely unique and interesting in his own right? I’m not sure, but I think Montreal’s Daniel Isaiah has passed it. Read about his debut album, along with reviews of recommended recent releases from Let's Wrestle and Don Rosler.
'High Twilight,' Daniel Isaiah (Secret City Records)
At what point does an artist have so many influences on display that he rises above them to become something completely unique and interesting in his own right? I’m not sure, but I think Montreal’s Daniel Isaiah has passed it.
Early Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are definitely present, in spirit at least, on moody, poetic meditations like “Anita on the Banks” and “Lady Moon So Far Away,” where Isaiah sings “They’re raising the dead on Boulevard, but I lost my graveyard appetite” in a resigned and sardonic murmur. But just when you think you’ve got him pegged, you hear traces of Lou Reed, Jon Anderson, Paul Simon, Dire Straits and even, on the chilling title track, a melancholic Johnny Cash.
Isaiah drifts from the reedy alt-folk of “Candlemaker Row” to swampy banjo vaudeville on “The Hours,” all the while projecting a weary intelligence paired with ragged emotion. Familiar but never derivative, “High Twilight” is a low-key coup.
'Nursing Home,' Let’s Wrestle (Merge Records)
British indie band Let’s Wrestle grows up a little on its sophomore effort … but, thankfully, not much.
Granted, the heroes of “Nursing Home” have had their share of heartache and spew their share of bile and sarcasm in response. “How were you well liked in the first place?” singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez asks on the acrid, punky “Dear John,” and on the Mersey beat bopper “I Am Useful,” he reconciles being abandoned by his wife by pledging to “put an English face on this.”
But there’s an underlying sprightliness that belies any attempts to get too solemn. On songs like “In Dreams Part II,” with its nocturnal fantasies involving “that bad actress from that bad TV show” and a randy Queen Victoria, and “Bad Mamories,” on which Gonzalez declares to an aging nymphomaniac that “you’re past your sell-by date,” they come off as The Clash’s less angry, much goofier nephews. I’m going to argue that’s a good thing.
'Rosler’s Recording Booth,' Don Rosler (Fingers Crossed Records)
There’s really no way this should work as well as it does, but Rosler’s concept album, set in a run-down arcade recording booth, achieves a certain melancholy perfection. Populated by NYC theater and club performers like Spottiswoode and Isabel Keating, it meshes actual old booth recordings — in turns funny, sad, moving and occasionally just plain odd — with songs that bring the voices behind them to poignant life.
More of a theater-of-the-mind experience than merely an aural one, “Recording Booth” captures its subjects in styles from alt-folk on “But a Dream” to music hall stomp on “Give it a Whirl.” But beyond the music, which is accomplished, the emotional heft is striking.
On “We’ll Have ’em All Over,” for instance, Terry Radigan and Ned Massey paint a stirring picture of a lonely soldier looking forward to having his buddies over “to stay” after the war, and on “Doris From Rego Park,” the most celebrated song on the record, Rosler creates a paean to an actual New York sports radio caller that’s funny and real even as it turns Doris’ imagined loneliness back on the listener: “I think we have in common that our most constant companion is our radio,” he speculates.
Time with “Rosler’s Recording Booth” as your companion will be well spent.
Contact Peter Chianca at firstname.lastname@example.org.