Editors' pick

Chris Isaak

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Editorial Review

Album review: "Beyond the Sun"

Fear of being seen as a retro rocker reportedly kept singer Chris Isaak from recording an album-length tribute to his 1950s Sun Studio influences until now. But he may have had another concern: Isn't saluting the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis an exercise in failure by comparison?

As it turns out, "Beyond the Sun," recorded at the fabled Memphis studio, has more sincerity than electricity going for it, and that's neither surprising nor unwelcome. Isaak is incapable of generating the wattage associated with Presley and company, and so he turns in nicely finessed performances, evocative and consistently appealing. His own vocal personality is strong enough to compensate for those moments that call for a bravura flourish - on Elvis's post-Sun hit "It's Now or Never," for example. And the songs associated with Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire"), Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls of Fire") and Carl Perkins ("Dixie Fried") are rendered with obvious affection and keen attention to detail. (Give Isaak's working band a lot of credit for that.)

Relatively obscure gems by Warren Smith ("So Long I'm Gone") and Jimmy Wages ("Miss Pearl") are a nice addition, colorfully expanding the album's perspective. "Beyond the Sun" also comes in a two-disc edition that includes songs by Roy Orbison ("Oh, Pretty Woman") and Howlin' Wolf ("Everybody's in the Mood"), along with Isaak's complementary contribution, "Lovely Loretta."

--Mike Joyce, Dec. 16, 2011