Though not well known outside of his hometown of Montreal, Daniel Isaiah is an artist that deserves your attention.
A multi-talented musician, Isaiah has been captivating audiences with his performances on guitar and piano, all while leaving an indelible mark with his unique voice. His meticulously crafted songs have been called “stunning” by American Songwriter magazine, reached #1 on Canadian campus stations, been selected track of the week by The Globe and Mail, and featured in rotation on CBC Radio 3.
Of his live show, prominent Canadian journalist Alan Cross said: “Within thirty seconds of him coming onstage I was transfixed… Extremely evocative, atmospheric and even slightly ominous. The songs were great.” Isaiah’s performance at the Leonard Cohen tribute at Le Rialto was singled out by La Presse as “breathtaking.” Other show highlights include festival appearances at Osheaga, SXSW and Pop Montreal; opening spots for Stephen Malkmus, Van Dyke Parks, Patrick Watson and Basia Bulat. And tours of Quebec, Ontario, New York and Italy.
Isaiah’s true gift, however, lies in his songwriting abilities, which have reached new heights on his upcoming album, To Live a Wild Life. The songs create a compelling conversation, grappling with chaos and death, but ultimately affirming life in all its unpredictable twists and turns.
Isaiah kicks off his new album with the line, “Here I am / Inevitably, in the city of man,” a nod to St. Augustine’s Earthly City, where people chase material pleasures in the temporal world. “Here the writing is on the wall / between you and me there’s nothing at all.” The line may be ambiguous, but as the song progresses, pessimism prevails. Beauty is deformed. Everything grows to rot. And as bad as things are, the worst hasn’t even happened yet. The song ends: “If you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse / over the wall at something better than this.”
This yearning for an unattainable beyond continues. “All I want is to live a wild life,” Isaiah sings, “and die a quiet death.” The Wild Life looks like a refuge from the world of so-called current events. Isaiah’s head is crammed with crisis talk. Hand-me-down ideas and thoughts. Bad news he can’t use. Nevertheless, he finds comfort in his solitude: “I am breathless and bare / quite alone but not in despair / beauty is everywhere.”
Beauty abounds in the dreamscape of “Kythira,” a song that draws inspiration from the Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon, where an elderly couple are transformed into intertwined oak and linden trees by the gods as a reward for their kindness, granting them eternal togetherness.
Isaiah comes back down to earth with “I’ve Got a Lot Riding on You,” a song born during the pandemic when Montreal was under a strict curfew. The song acknowledges “We’ll never cure all is sick / We’ll never fix what can’t be fixed / But we are not broken just licking our wounds / And I’ve got a lot riding on you.” Isaiah clarifies that this line doesn’t imply dependence or reliance but rather recognizes that we are in this together, finding strength and support in one another.
“Song of You” narrates the tragic tale of a husband and father who takes his own life. The song shifts perspectives, first from the husband as he walks into the woods carrying a gun, then to his wife’s point of view: “She heard the shot from their bed / Behind the trees the sky was turning red / The birds were singing too.” The choruses are directed toward their child: “It was the song of you / He used to sing to you,” and in the heartbreaking final chorus: “It was the song of you / That he would leave you to.”
Side B starts with “Brock Avenue,” the album’s centrepiece. Last autumn, Isaiah went on a long walk through the neighbourhood where he grew up. It looked as he’d remembered it, except he didn’t know a single person there – whereas he could have told you the name of every adult and child on the block when he lived there. Finally, he did recognize someone: a neighbour, tending to her immaculate garden. He hadn’t seen her in over twenty years. Isaiah called out her name, and she came over. She said, “I’m sorry about your mom,” who had passed away, and hugged him. It was a powerful encounter that unlocked the lyrics to a tune he’d been humming for many years.
“Waking Life” is a testament to Isaiah’s prowess as a narrative songwriter. The song delves into the inner thoughts of a school-teacher waiting in the freezing cold for her bus home, contemplating a breakup that has led her to a firm decision: “She doesn’t want another man.” She reflects upon the unhappy echoes of her past, recognizing the parallels between her failed relationship and the one her parents endured. As the song reaches its climax, a surreal twist disrupts the realism of the narrative. The bus hasn’t arrived on time, and her gaze extends down the road, now infinite in its expanse.
“At The Celebration” humorously recounts a country wedding from the perspective of a detached guest. The father of the bride laughs at the groom’s vows, Mama struggles to “keep her face on straight” and the cameraman is on MDMA. After the wedding, the narrator and their spouse remember their own wedding day and the challenges of maintaining their love, described as “passing through the eye of a needle.”
The album concludes with “Oblivion,” striking a sober and beautiful chord, embracing resignation and the affirmation of life in the face of death. Isaiah declares, “Oh, I know I’ll never grasp / An architecture so vast / I’ll give up my complaint / And fall in love with my fate / Oblivion.”
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