Brandon Isaak is known as a hard-working, hard-rocking blues showman.
Whether he’s playing with his Vancouver-based jump band The Twisters or at the Gold Pan Saloon with The Whitehorse All-Star Blues Band, Isaak delivers a high-energy and high-intensity performance. He makes his electric guitar scream and cry, laying out a danceable groove.
But with Bluesman’s Plea, his first solo album, Isaak turns the volume down, taps the brakes, and cruises. That doesn’t mean he’s less intense or energetic. He still pushes all his emotions out of his throat and into his voice, as his fingers fly over the fretboards of his guitars.
This is a true solo CD. Aside from some drumming and backup vocals provided by brother/producer Chris, everything on this album comes from Brandon Isaak.
In addition to electric, acoustic and slide guitars, Isaak plays bass, harmonica and foot percussions – kick drum, tambourine, toe-tapping and foot-stomping. He also wrote all the songs.
Those songs cover every blues style, from traditional and gospel to slow jams and hints of country.
They also cover a range of blues experience: livin’ and dyin’, lovin’ and hurtin’, bad decisions, bad relationships and bad women. And according to Isaak’s liner notes, they’re all true.
The title track, “A Bluesman’s Plea” is the most traditional. Played completely solo, just an acoustic guitar with accents provided by a bottleneck and foot tapping, the song is plea for a woman to come home to her man. With its steady guitar riff, it’s a tribute to Robert Johnson.
By “Ain’t No Pleasin’ You”, the singer realizes that the relationship is over: “It’s true I wined and I dined you, it’s the least that I could do. I don’t know about you, but I think we’s through, ’cause there ain’t no pleasin’ you.”
He finally takes the plunge with “Gotta Let You Go”.
If these songs are as true as Isaak claims, he must either have terrible luck with relationships or just one very bad one. Maybe he’ll have better luck with the flight attendant in “Hard Workin’ Woman”, whose song has a driving rock ‘n’ roll rhythm of drums and tambourine and a pre-takeoff safety lecture.
Turning to the topic of death, Isaak sings the comic blues “Jump Start Me”, about the death of his vehicle.
The gospel number “Take My Message” is about facing death with faith, with all the bouncing rhythm and joy of a New Orleans funeral.
“40 Years O’ Lovin'”, one of the CD’s bonus tracks, is a tribute to Isaak’s family, especially his parents, Ed and Donna Isaak. In addition to running the Gold Pan where Isaak often plays, Ed is a member of the old time rock ‘n’ roll band The Canucks.
“Water Your Garden” is about putting effort into a relationship to make it work, making extensive use of a garden metaphor.
But as this is a lively blues song, it all comes across as a series of very interesting double entendres: “I’m goin’ to refill your bucket, baby/Gonna make your garden grow.” See what I mean.
Although largely a solo effort with Isaak playing most of the instruments, the album never feels thin. Even with little of the electric blues he’s known for, Isaak has created a CD of some great blues songs, which he sings with a real passion.
Outstanding Tracks: “A Bluesman’s Plea” and “Water Your Garden”.