From the opening notes of "Dandelion Wine," Gregory Alan Isakov’s This Empty Northern Hemisphere sounds familiar yet foreign. On one hand, it’s another great folksy, singer/songwriter album, cut from the mold of Iron and Wine or Ray Lamontagne. However, the extensive use of piano, banjo, violin and other stringed instruments give the album an extra layer or two.
"Evelyn" takes a turn towards indie rock, albeit the softer side. Isakov’s vocals sound as if he’s applied a bit of reverb to them, and with the quicker tempo, offers a slight change from the softer stuff. Isakov shows there’s more to him than the quiet, acoustic folk mold, although the bulk of the disc certainly delivers music of that ilk and is clearly where he’s most comfortable.
And, it’s the quieter ballads where Isakov shines. His vocals on tracks like "Words" and "Idaho" are soft, pained, aching and beautiful all at the same time, and the arrangements on the disc really help tie everything together in one pristine folk package.
Isakov may not be a household name yet, but he will be. Those who dig Lamontagne and Sam Beam need to clear off a little shelf space for This Empty Northern Hemisphere, out now on SCI Fidelity Records.