Chris Isaak

San Francisco Days

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Having found himself with a fluke hit single thanks to "Wicked Game," Isaak's next move was interesting enough -- namely, for a long while, nothing. Heart Shaped World's follow-up came four years later, after Nirvana and Dr. Dre rewrote the musical rules for what turned out to be the rest of the '90s. As a result, San Francisco Days more than any of Isaak's earlier albums seemed more timeless, more enjoyably out of place, than before, an effect heightened by the intentionally '60s-styled cover art and design, right down to the listing of the song titles on the front. But while the emphasis on the surface was traditionalism and continuity, in fact, San Francisco Days was the most quietly experimental collection Isaak had yet recorded, wedding his clean and classic approach, backed by his ever-reliable trio and as always produced by Erik Jacobsen, with a variety of newer musical touches and quirkier arrangements. Thus the barrelhouse piano toward the end of the swooning title track or the quietly sassy female backing vocals on "Can't Do a Thing to Stop This" and "Move Along," not to mention the dark rumble of feedback mixed with fuzzy rhythm box (!) that provides the core of "Round N' Round," the vocal growl at the end a surprising touch. The work of guest Jimmy Pugh on Hammond organ on various tracks is also noteworthy, adding some quietly funky smoke to the proceedings. This certainly doesn't describe the whole album, and those won over by "Wicked Game" and its crystalline vision of smoldering appeal and emotional sucker punch will find much to love with the deceptively gentle lope of "Two Hearts" and the slow, stripped-down "Waiting." There are also plenty of good-time numbers well suited to Isaak and company's sly style, like "Beautiful Homes," while a concluding cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" wraps things up on a fine high note.

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