Isakov, who grew up in Philadelphia, has released eight indie-folk albums since his 2003 debut “Rust Colored Stones.” His latest album, “Appaloosa Bones,” marks 20 years in the music business, and his music has been featured on hit films like “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and on television in “The Blacklist,” “The Stand,” “Girls” and “Veronica Mars.” In November 2019, his 2018 release “Evening Machines” was nominated for a Grammy Award for best folk album.
That long and successful career meant that Isakov could be playing a larger venue in Atlanta, but he wanted to make sure he landed at the Tabernacle again.
”The promoters came back and said, ‘maybe we should move you up next to Cobb or even a bigger venue,’ and I said, no, can we just do another Tabernacle show if that’s possible? Like, it just has something so magical to me about it. And I just love that town, too. I’ve always loved going to Atlanta and it’s always been amazing. I also remember playing Eddie’s Attic and Terminal West.”
The reason he could be playing those bigger venues comes down to the fans who have connected with his songs. But the craft of songwriting is still a challenge and a bit of a mystery to Isakov. “It’s hard to understand songwriting as a lifelong reaching,” he said. “For me it’s sort of been an ineffable experience. It’s the one part of my life that I don’t feel like is evolutionary. ... There is no evolution in this, I just start over every time. To me, they’re like photographs.”
In discussing his latest album, “Appaloosa Bones,” Isakov notes that sometimes, those songs come from a sense of place.
“I think I recorded 30, and I was like, okay first of all, what are the ones that are really making me feel something? And then second, what do they have? How are they connected? And I think there were some songs that just didn’t fit the landscape that I was going for. So a lot of the songs have this lonely feeling and western tinge to them, but also have a lot of the natural world of West Texas, that natural kind of area of the world where I was writing that.”
In songs like “Before the Sun” and “Miles To Go,” the album drifts between a solitary life on the road, with lyrics like “Hotel bar, sinking in, Broken heart, busted strings” and “Sandy bus kicking up dust, I’ll go it on my own”; to a quiet life on the farm in songs like “Feed Your Horses,” where Isakov states “I’ll wait for you, darlin, like grain in the ground, I’ll feed your horses when you go into town.” This haunting back and forth between home and the road weaves a story of how lonely both can be when you are left alone, or with a partner who’s left you feeling alone.
While he can’t wait to perform at the Tabernacle again, he admits to having past issues with being on the road for so long. “It led me to a tour that was 200 shows in a year where I was changing buses and opening for Brandi Carlile, Iron and Wine, and Indigo Girls. It was amazing. I think the band and everyone made enough money to pay rent and we were all like, ‘okay, we did it,’ but we were kind of miserable. Our lives are just us staring out of a van. And that was 200 shows, and so you say, okay, how do we do this?”
Ultimately, the answer was easy. “I miss my work,” he said. “I miss working.”
Isakov found his stride in songwriting and in touring again. “While it’s taken a while to get to this place, we’re just so appreciative of people that parked, paid for dinner and came to our show. They probably had to get a babysitter, maybe, and we just can’t believe they made their way here.”
Gregory Alan Isakov with Lucius
7:30 p.m. Oct. 7-8. $39-$99. The Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. livenation.com.