Mr. Lucky

The two top competitors for the Roy Orbison sound-alike contest have returned this year, interestingly enough, with similarly titled releases. Earlier this year Raul Malo released Lucky One, his first recording of original material in 8 years. Now Chris Isaak returns after a 7 year hiatus from original songs with Mr. Lucky. Conspiracy theorist – line up with possible motives. Better yet, sit back and enjoy the outpouring of happy songs, mournful ballads and high notes that honor the memory of Mr. Orbison.

Nearly a quarter century after releasing his debut Isaak remains true to the formula that made him a star. Isaak presents himself as the handsome loner who just can’t win at love. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how good a beau, our hero is mistreated, cheated on, and left broken-hearted, and he manages to convey his emotions with a catch in his falsetto as it sweeps up towards those sweet high notes. Remarkably he also still sports the same hairdo and buff body he first displayed in the mid 1980’s.

Isaak’s songs feature twangy guitars, brushed rhythms, silky strings, and lots of over-dubbed harmonies. Occasionally the harmonies are provided by guest singers. Trisha Yearwood plays female foil on “Breaking Apart” while Michelle Branch shares crying duties on “I Lose My Heart.” Isaak creates a comfortable balances between rockabilly, country and pop but the themes are always the same – love and the lack of it.

Tomorrow seems to be an optimistic word for Isaak. “We’ve Got Tomorrow” is an upbeat ditty that is reminiscent of “Think of Tomorrow” from Isaak’s 1996 album The Baja Sessions. “Best I Ever Had” is another hopeful track that comes as close to rock as Isaak gets. “Take My Heart” is a fun track that borders on the hokey with its Les Paul approach to guitar arrangement and backing vocals. By far the best track is the opener “Cheater’s Town” a sultry, sad number that is imbued with the pain of deceit.

It’s remarkable how many of the songs on this album could easily be transferred to Malo’s album; Isaak even incorporates brassy horns like his counterpart. And yet, both Malo and Isaak manage to personalize a similar approach to music. There’s room enough for both of them in this big wide wonderful world.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)