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In rotation: Works from Chris Isaak and Dale Watson & the Texas Two

October 13, 2011 |  8:30 am

A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers & contributors are listening to right now...

In rotation: Works from Chris Isaak and Dale Watson & the Texas Two

Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn., can legitimately claim bragging rights as ground zero for the Big Bang of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, and it's no wonder that more than half a century later, the ripples of that explosion are still reverberating mightily.

Stockton-reared singer-songwriter Chris Isaak and Texas rocker Dale Watson have traveled different but complementary paths through their roots-conscious careers, and their new albums pay tribute to the rock pioneers on whose mighty shoulders they stand, specifically Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, all of whom launched careers with records they made for Sun founder Sam Phillips.

Isaak's record, recorded mostly in Sun's still-active studio on Union Avenue, brings his spin on several of the songs that emerged from that compact studio to become cornerstones of the rock repertoire. He applies his gossamer voice to several early Presley numbers: “My Baby Left Me” and “Baby, Let's Play House” among them; a couple of Cash classics; Lewis' “Great Balls of Fire” ; and Orbison's biggest hit, recorded after he left Sun for Monument, “Oh, Pretty Woman.”

He and his cohorts are ideally suited to this repertoire, and Isaak often provides more longing romanticism to the ballads than the originals with his elegant crooning.

Watson, who recorded these 14 original songs entirely at Sun, is more interested in evoking the spirit of his heroes than their own music. Between his river-deep, quavery baritone and the committed assistance of bassist Chris Crepps and drummer-guitarist Mike Bernal, Watson credibly resurrects the raw, invigorating sound rooted primarily in Cash's Tennessee Two recordings.

Chris Isaak
“Beyond the Sun” 

Dale Watson & the Texas Two 
“The Sun Sessions” 
(Red House Records)


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Image: Chris Isaak Credit: Sheryl Louis / Vanguard Records