CHRIS ISAAK at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Monday (October 29), doors 7 pm. $35-$89.50. RTH, TM. See listing.
On season two of Flight Of The Conchords, Bret and Jemaine are given this advice: "Women like three things: men in kilts, Southern Comfort and Chris Isaak's Wicked Game."
While some of that's questionable, Isaak is one of the most likeable singers around. It's difficult to distinguish the man from the charming character he played on The Chris Isaak Show for three seasons in the early 00s.
Last year, he released Beyond The Sun (Vanguard), an homage to Sun Records. Considering that his sartorial style mirrors the young Elvis's and his voice is reminiscent of Roy Orbison's, it wasn't a shock that he looked to that golden era for the album's material, which includes tunes by Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Orbison and Johnny Cash.
"I picked the songs I love to sing," he says. "I love a song that has something different about it: a great melody, a different way of looking at things, a great line like ‘Go on and cry your heart out in your other lover's arms.' Lines like that stick with you like somebody wrote 'em in blood."
Isaak's own songwriting career started when he was about 12, and he swears he's still just trying to sing as well as his older brother, Nick, who has opened for him on tour.
"I remember that I saved some money and went down to Kmart to buy a cassette recorder. My friends thought I was nuts because I didn't buy a football. They couldn't see any possible use for a tape recorder, but I kept telling them, ‘You can record songs with it!' I brought it home and had a ball. It was just a lot of fun to be able to make up songs and listen to them."
While it's unlikely Isaak will play any of those early gems at Massey Hall on Monday, this unswerving belief in the power of music-making continues to drive him.
"I still have not only the tapes but the recorder and the charger and the little microphone that came with it. I even have the receipt, but I'm pretty sure after all this time the warranty is up."