Isaak's eighth disc still awaits listeners with suited tastes

— Chris Isaak has no delusions that his music is complex, cutting edge or even remotely innovative.

"It's not an acquired taste. It's like apple pie," he says, "but with just a hint of arsenic."

That one drop of poison is the key ingredient. Like the songs of his idol, Roy Orbison, Isaak's love ballads are so blue and forlorn they verge on menacing.

His eighth and latest disc, Always Got Tonight, boasts "Notice the Ring," a trippy, flute-fueled tune he describes as "Ian Anderson meets Roy Orbison meets Sopwith Camel."

"I kept saying 'I hear a flute in the song,' and everyone kept saying 'NO! Don't do that. Nobody wants to hear flute.' But you can't please everyone, so you gotta please yourself. And if you do that, eventually, people will come to you."

One of the best tunes on Always Got Tonight is the title track, a snarling, power-chord rocker that recalls vintage AC/DC. Although Isaak has written his share of loud, fast tunes over the years, he admits "a lot of people think if they come to see me live, I'm going to do nothing but sing sad ballads and put them to sleep.

"But that's not true. I like to get them all excited and then go out to their cars and steal a few things."

He stands to pick up even more new fans by touring this summer with Natalie Merchant. The two singers aren't likely touring mates: He's a nutty love balladeer, she's a dour social commentator and strict vegetarian.

But Isaak says that with a little luck, their personalities will rub off on each other.

"We're gonna start off slow, but by the end of the tour, I'll be a total vegan," he says, "and she'll be butchering and smoking her own heifers."

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