Chris Isaak

Baja Sessions

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Isaak's well-known surfing fixation had been referenced here and there on past album art before, but Baja Sessions gives him a chance not only to bring that out in the open but to consciously aim for a much more relaxed, gentle follow-up to the harrowing Forever Blue. Returning to the calmer but still potent romantic angst and celebration familiar from his earlier records, Isaak and his core band, with new recruit Hershel Yatovitz on lead guitar, tackle a slew of cover songs, some re-recordings of older material and a few new songs as well. It's a much more relaxed outing in comparison to his previous work, by no means raw or rough, though -- Erik Jacobsen, Isaak's producer from start to end, or so it seems, keeps the focused, sweet sadness of Isaak's singing and music as pure as one could ever want it. The emphasis is on mostly acoustic performances with soft drumming from Johnson, usually with brushes. The calm, gentle flow of the band's work here means the new versions of older Isaak cuts like "Back On Your Side" and "Two Hearts" sound especially lovely, having a serene, relaxed sparkle to them. The cover choices are a fun range, everything from bona-fide rock & roll classics to nods to country and other sources. The old Gene Autry singing cowboy number "South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)" not only fits the theme of the album but seems tailor-made for Isaak's singing style, while Hawaiian standard "Sweet Leilani" gets the right touch of steel guitar twang to suit the song and then some. If there's a winner, though, it's the all-debts-paid cover of one of Isaak's obvious heroes -- Roy Orbison, whose majestic "Only the Lonely" gets a low-key but still appropriately dramatic revamp.

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