Daniel Isaiah: High Twilight (Secret City)

We first find Montreal singer-songwriter Daniel Isaiah in contemplation. On his debut album's opening track, "Anita on the Banks," his light, high voice sounds a bit like Paul Simon's, and the poetic flood falls out of him in a style not unlike that of Bob Dylan. The tune starts out with the line, "The nights were an agony of heat / It crawled in our rooms and our bodies / in our sleep," imagery familiar to those of us enduring a Sonoran Desert summer. From hushed strummed acoustic guitar through electric reverb, with generous dollops of organ, Isaiah and band let a snowballing arrangement grow into a big cathartic rocker.

High Twilight is filled with that kind of drama, as well as the contrast between light and dark, and energy ranging from rambunctious to introspective. Isaiah crafts songs using differing of styles, including spooky chamber pop (the title track sounds almost like a lost Daniel Lanois number); Americana-meets-Tin Pan Alley, laced with horns, banjo and musical saw ("The Hours"); and even a couple of chansons in French.

Such diversity coheres thanks to Isaiah's ingratiating combination of playfulness and gravity, such as on the hauntingly pretty, somewhat trippy "Ogygia." Considering all the variety of forms, the more-conventional pop-rocker "The Naked Night," which sounds like a musical meld of Robert Pollard and Tom Verlaine, is a refreshing exception.

Perhaps the best tunes on this superb record are "Candlemaker Row" and "No Mean Dream," both of which trade in the unflinching emotional honesty that Leonard Cohen pioneered.

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