Review Summary: put out the smoke in your mind, let's put all these words away.
I'd be a lot further along in life if my pen bled as effortlessly as Gregory Alan Isakov's voice. With six albums out and almost two decades of work notched into his folky belt, this Philly-raised gentleman has never once hinted at a forced hand. From his earliest endeavors through to his latest opus, Evening Machines
, everything that has been presented by his craftsman's touch has come off as naturally as nature herself. It's no small feat to keep that momentum chugging along for someone who lays claim to venerated albums like This Empty Northerm Hemisphere
and That Sea, The Gambler
, but in the fifteen years since his debut, Isakov's craft has aged like a fine cab sauv. It's been a logical evolution, and one that has watched Isakov slowly bolster the chamber arrangements and textural symphonies that compliment his songcraft into something now more ethereal than pastoral. Just listen to "Southern Star" to get the idea. This isn't just
indie folk draped in shades of sepia, it's a soundtrack to a film whose rustic reel plays only in the privacy of your own soul. That intimate demeanour and emotional universality that have long underpinned a hefty procurement of antique tonic are still here in spades, but temporally speaking, the stillshots of old hitching posts and railway lines have taken a back seat to sun-spotted memories of floating dandellion seeds and big blue skies, making Evening Machines
less an exercise in poignant nostalgia and more a beast of existential awe than its predecessors.
Perhaps his work alongside the Colorado Symphony a couple years prior kindled a new desire to render his folksome musings in a more colourful light, or perhaps its just a thing that comes along with artistic maturity. After all, at some point, every artist with an inkling of introspection finds themselves staring at the greater void, and all are left to confront their findings through art when that day comes. For a full time farmer like Isakov, it seems as though it's a topic that's been reconciled far too long ago to warrant a direct confrontation. “I recorded mostly at night, when I wasn’t working in the gardens. It doesn't matter if it’s summer or winter, morning or afternoon, this music always feels like evening to me”
touts the ever humble Pennsylvanian, as if those grandiose questions of matter and spirit are happy to be reduced to moods brought on by sunsets on the ranch. The simplest of things hold the entire world in their essence, like a grain of sand holding the entire beach in its pebbleness, and it's with that sense of Zen-like humility that Isakov's music bears the utmost profundity. Lines like "Silver and gold, precious stones, so I'm told, ah we're clutching, but there ain't nothing we can hold"
on the enchanting "Bullet Holes" are noble on paper, but when taken in the context of everything surrounding them in Evening Machine
's world, they seem to resonate with the heart on untold levels.
Even the most downtrodden moments like those in "Too Far Away" are dotted with flecks of polychroma in the form of well-placed vocal harmonies and bright chimes, and these moments do well to highlight the significance of the subtle evolutions in Isakov's ouevre. It's a fine balance between towing the line and adding splashes of new colour, and while Isakov's sixth LP is certainly consistent beside his greater body of work, the romp of tracks like "Caves", with its rapturous chorus and steam-engine lurch, underscore his knack for branching out while maintaining an excellent sense of pacing. A lot of ground is covered on Evening Machines
, but it never strays too far from the fencelines. It feels local, microcosmic even, yet somehow captures the grand scope of the human experience without ever leaving the rural county that birthed its existence. That simplicity of a life away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitania, captured in song, is inadvertently a stark reminder that maybe we all just need to slow down a bit. Maybe life is a lot simpler than we make it out to be, and maybe a lot of what us urbanites peg as "essentials" are really just superfluous manifestations of our egos. Whatever the case, it sounds like ol' Gregory is still here to put out the smoke in our minds and remind us to appreciate the small wonders that surround us every day.