Brandon Isaak: Spiritual Undertones

It’s been a fairly typical autumn for bluesman Brandon Isaak. Typically busy, that is.

Cover: Spiritual Undertones

The former Whitehorse musician spent most of September on tour in Germany and Holland, including an appearance at the prestigious Guitar Summit in Mannheim, Germany, on behalf of his sponsor, Redemption Guitars.

Earlier this month, the singer/songwriter/guitarist visited parts of Alberta with bass-player Keith Picot, his multimedia partner in the Silver Screen Scoundrels.

His October and November calendars also note a steady roster of gigs in B.C.’s lower mainland, where he currently lives.

On top of all that, he will return to his Yukon roots on November 9 for two back-to-back shows to launch his latest CD, Rise ‘n’ Shine.

“I’ve been working on it for about eight months, something like that. Slowly chipping away at it, because I’m on tour,” he said.

“It’s a busy life, as you know, so you try to get a chance to hit it when you can.”

After two acoustic solo albums, Bluesman’s Plea (2011) and Here on Earth (2014), the new compilation marks a bit of a departure.

“I’ve been playing a lot of lap steel guitar, so that’s a new thing that’s not on any of the other ones. I’ve got Jerry Cook on horns, and a couple of the tracks have a little horn section. There’s some really cool swing stuff on there, too,” he said.

“What I’m hearing from people is that each song has its own character and personality. So, it’s a diverse record. I like when records are fresh, not the same thing over and over. It’s nice when you can put one record on and it sort of covers a lot of ground.”

Although the album has no theme, as such, there is one element that ties it to its predecessors.

“There’s a little spiritual undertone to the album, maybe. Most of my records do have a bit of a spiritual undertone. I think that would probably be the one common thread between all of them,” he said.

Isaak’s grandfather was a minister, and his mother played piano in church, as well as teaching Sunday school.

“I was in the church quite a bit, so that piqued my interest in the Bible. Over time, you learn to look at other concepts and religions, and try to learn about them all, and accept everybody for what they do and what they believe,” he said.

Both Bluesman’s Plea and Here on Earth included gospel numbers, with chord progressions reflecting the African-American influence on the southern church, “and obviously, the singing style and stuff,” Isaak added.

The jacket art for the new CD, painted by Mississippi folk artist J.D. Sipe, also includes obvious and not-so-obvious religious symbolism.

But is the album title itself a riff on the old hymn standard, “Rise, Shine, Give God the Glory”? Not necessarily.

“There are different stories about how you might come across a name or something. But, like lyrics, you want people to sort of read their own story into it and personalize it for themselves,” he said.

Rise ‘n’ Shine, there’s a million ways to look at it. To me, that’s just the old-school phrase of ‘Come on, it’s morning. Get up, let’s go. It’s a beautiful day out there.’”

Isaak admits his previous solo album had him stumped for a name until his friend, Harpdog Brown came to the rescue when they were on the road together.

“I said, ‘Dog, I don’t know what to name the new record,’ and he said, ‘Well, let me go into the bank for a minute and I’ll think about it.’ And he came back and said, ‘Here on Earth.’

Brandon Isaak

“And I said, ‘That’s strange. Why?’ And he said, ‘Because, man, you’re from another planet, the way you play all this stuff.’ So I thought, That’s kind of a cool name. I like it. There’s a million other things I think when I hear that title, too.”

In addition to Cook, the forthcoming album (which officially went on sale on October 26) features a number of Isaak’s longtime collaborators, including David “Hurricane” Hoerl, one of the co-founders of the jump band, The Twisters.

“He was seriously messed up with a major stroke, four years ago, but he can still play great harmonica. Speaking’s hard, everything’s tricky; but playing harp, he’s just got it in him. It’s the damnedest thing.”

Others on the album include bassist/vocalist Jack Lavin and keyboardist/vocalist Willie MacCalder, both alumni of Vancouver’s legendary Powder Blues Band.

Not to mention Isaak’s own father, singer/bandleader Ed Isaak, who has been a fixture on the Yukon music scene for decades.

“I’m really happy that I got Pops on there. He’s playing bass on a couple of tracks. There’s sort of a ’50s ballad tune I wrote called ‘Blame It on the Girl’, and he’s on there.”

The CD release party on Friday, November 9 at the Old Fire Hall is being co-presented by Jazz Yukon. Thanks to brisk, early sales, it will now consist of two separate shows, at 6:30 and 9 p.m.

Isaak will be fronting a trio that includes Yukoners Lonnie Powell on drums and Paul Bergman on bass.

“I play with drummers all over the world, and Lonnie’s one of my all-time favourites. We went to Europe once for three and a half weeks (with The Twisters). Any chance I get to play with him, I’m always thrilled to do it. He’s the man,” Isaak said.

“I met [Bergman] in an elevator in Regina. He’s an awesome bass player. He’s so versatile; he’s just a groove monster. So playing with those two, it’s a real dream team.”

For tickets and more information, go to

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