Gregory Alan Isakov has been a local folk fixture in Colorado for years now, playing coffee houses and recording albums full of sauntering, bucolic melodies.
In 2009, Isakov — who headlines the Fox Theatre on Friday — released a new album, “This Empty Northern Hemisphere,” an effort that featured the gripping power of Brandi Carlile’s vocals. And Isakov has toured and weaved his way across the country ever since, playing to hundreds or dozens, holding people in suspension with his involved, rich imagery and folk-rooted compositions.
The album concept came to him as naturally as the world it illustrates.
“The first time that I thought of it, I was working at this farm outside Boulder,” Isakov said. “It was this big, open landscape with nothing everywhere I looked … did you ever read the book The Little Prince? That’s what it felt like; This little boy walking on this big world.”
The world Isakov writes about rings effortlessly from complex tapestries of sound that come off as though they created themselves. This isn’t an accident for Isakov.
“Some songs take a long time,” he said. “It used to be for me, if a song didn’t live for more than a couple days, then it would go into this big pile of unfinished parts. But … the longest time I ever spent was on ‘Dandelion Wine,’ which is weird since it’s a short piece of music. I must have spent eight months on it … and one day it just came.”
This goes back to the idea that Isakov lets his music speak for itself, and he gets out of the way of it as much as possible. A song having its own agenda brings up how an artist can tell when the song is representing itself fully.
“It’s more of a quality or a feeling that is presenting itself in the song, if the story can just line up perfectly,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m going to get with the space the song has. But lyrically I’ve been trying to say as little as possible these days.”
“This Empty Northern Hemisphere” is laden with songs that speak to the feeling parts of us, It’s full of twisting, winding roads that connect the vast landscapes of human experience by letting them speak for themselves.
Isakov’s touring this spring focuses largely on Colorado, with March being taken up by playing towns from Boulder to Carbondale. Though he’s spent time in big venues spanning the whole of the United States, his time in Colorado stands as a period to feel the roots of his rooted music.
“Back when I used to be excited about a few songs, I’d go over to Folsom St. Coffee and ask if I could play that night, play for seven people,” he remembers. “That was years ago now, and I still feel like that.”
Isakov’s other Colorado shows include: March 12 at Everyday Joe’s in Fort Collins; March 26 at the Mountain Grind Coffee & Bistro in Fraser; and March 27 at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.
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Kathleen Tarrant is a Boulder writer whose other work can be found on her blog, My Best Friend’s Arm.