Music Review: Gregory Alan Isakov returns with understated style and grace on 'Appaloosa Bones'

Gregory Alan Isakov is the artist most likely to make you remind yourself who that is, writes Scott Stroud of The Associated Press

BySCOTT STROUD Associated Press

August 14, 2023, 11:10 AM

Music Review - Gregory Alan Isakov

This image released by Dualtone Records/ Suitcase Town Music shows Appaloosa Bones by Gregory Alan Isakov. (Dualtone Records/ Suitcase Town Music via AP)

The Associated Press

Gregory Alan Isakov, “Appaloosa Bones” (Dualtone/Suitcase Town Music)

Gregory Alan Isakov surfaces on old playlists as the artist most likely to send you looking to remind yourself who that is — so sweetly and gently understated that it’s sometimes easy to forget the source.

On “Appaloosa Bones,” Isakov’s first new album in five years, he only adds to the mystical aura he created in his earlier work, including the Grammy-nominated 2018 album “Evening Machines.” His new songs are relentlessly majestic, a kind of musical morphine, invariably soothing. There’s enough beauty in them to work as background music but enough substance to reward listeners who lean in more actively.

Isakov’s music also benefits from the confidence he has to never be in a hurry. He has that magical ability to convey both urgency and grandeur at the same time, a rarity these days, and he does so in his own good time.

Consider “The Fall,” the album’s first single. It begins with gently rolling, then soaring piano. Then a deliberate, reverberating backbeat drops, just before Isakov weighs in with low tones on the single first line: “I keep stumbling back.” Then, a lyrical pause, let that thought sink in. And then he gradually delves further into melancholy, but against such an ascendant backdrop of sound that he ultimately lifts your spirits.

That kind of grace can be found on all 11 of these new tracks. In “Before the Sun,” Isakov begins with a surprising tutorial in what makes the banjo an instrument of elegance. A simple, majestic strum that sets the backdrop for a string of vivid lyrical gems: “The devil sees us now/Clear as the moon glows/ Sleeping in our winter clothes/Radio’s a crackling fire.”

Simple. Straightforward. Utterly evocative.

Isakov has said he set out to make a lo-fi rock and roll record, but then followed the music when it led him somewhere else.

And this time, somewhere else is plenty good enough.


AP music reviews: