Usually, anytime a musical artist performs on a talk show, that marks the end of the program: Letterman, Leno or Conan stroll out to shake hands with the band, and the credits roll. Gone are the days of Johnny inviting band members over to the couch for some chit-chat about their new record. This was just one reason Chris Isaak agreed to star in his new talk show, The Chris Isaak Hour — it gives musicians an opportunity to play two or three songs and then the chance to talk about the work they do.
Each week a guest artist sits down with Isaak on a retro set that looks like something out of a ’50s sitcom. Isaak then interviews them, delving into questions about influences, their careers, and even what gets cooked in the kitchen. The conversations are broken up with performance footage shot on a soundstage. Isaak and his crack band, Silvertone, are on hand to act as the house band, with Isaak generally joining the guests for one or two numbers. On top of hearing musicians comfortably opening up about their lives, you also get to see unique, one-of-a-kind performances, such as Glen Campbell and Isaak singing “Rhinestone Cowboy” or Isaak and Trisha Yearwood performing their new song, “Breaking Apart.”
Just as he does on stage, where he allows his singing companion the room to perform and breathe, Isaak is never quick to interrupt his guests with his own thoughts. Instead, he adheres to the motto that the show is about them and what they have to say. While each episode opens with a short skit that usually includes Isaak’s funnyman drummer, Kenny Dale Johnson, the rest of the show is pretty straightforward. Although filmed entirely on a soundstage with no studio audience, the show has the deliberate feel of a live music variety program, with old black and white footage of people applauding between songs. It’s that tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink type of charm that makes Isaak so appealing.
The first seven installments, which began airing two weeks ago, have an eclectic slate of guests that range from Stevie Nicks to alternative gods, Smashing Pumpkins, pop crooner Michael BublÃ© to folk legend Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens). Isaak has a laid back, amiable approach that makes him a perfect interviewer. The guests obviously feel comfortable with him to open up about their triumphs and shortcomings. And Isaak has honest reactions. For instance, while listening to Nicks describe how her cocaine addiction had destroyed her nose and a doctor warned her that if she snorted once more she could die. Isaak reacted with disbelief, his face trying to mask his shock and somewhat disgust.
If you’re a fan of good music (and let’s face it, if you’re reading Popdose, it’s not because of the television coverage) then you should be tuning into The Chris Isaak Hour. The cool singer/songwriter’s music program airs new episodes every Thursday night on the Biography Channel.