Bay Area rockabilly revivalist Chris Isaak is proud of his latest release, “First Comes the Night,” which he recorded mostly in Nashville with country producers Dave Cobb and Paul Worley. It features some of the strongest work in his three-decade career, like the mariachi-swaying “Perfect Lover,” an Elvis-meets-Jordanaires barnstormer, “Down In Flames,” and the roadhouse-rowdy “Running Down the Road.”
But he’s equally excited about other projects, like his current stint as a judge and mentor on “X Factor Australia” and a recent surprise voiceover appearance on Cartoon Network’s quasi-psychedelic series “Adventure Time.”
“I love doing cartoons!” says Isaak, who headlines the 2015 Silicon Valley Ball in Redwood City on Saturday. “ … I watch enough old movies, so I know a million voices. And when they call me for cartoons, it’s easy for me to think up people to do, because I know all the old character actors from 1930 on. I just roll it through my head like a Rolodex and go, ‘Which character actor would play this part? OK, that’s who I’ll be.’”
His favorite voice is Akim Tamiroff’s rasp from “Touch of Evil.” He adds, “If they keep hiring me, sooner or later he’s going to show up in a cartoon.”
The singer — who has moonlighted as an actor over the years in films such as “Little Buddha,” “A Dirty Shame” and “The Silence of the Lambs” — thinks the writing on some idiosyncratic animated shows outshines that of most mainstream movies these days. “I’m really happy to do those things, because they’re truly funny,” he says of his pop-ins on “American Dad!,” “The Cleveland Show” and “Over the Garden Wall.” “And I always try to go in and do a good job, and I try to do it quick.”
But that’s Isaak’s work ethic. Even though he has spent his adult life in rooms with microphones, delivering pitch-perfect performances, he listened studiously when Cobb and Worley wanted to bring out the best in his Orbison-evocative voice and embellish it with Music Row studio musicians (alongside his own longtime backing band Silvertone) on his new recording.
“Worley and Cobb? I’d come by and trim their hedges, even wash their cars to work those guys again. They were that good,” he says.
But taping live on “X Factor Australia” has proved more challenging. Isaak has often argued heatedly over contestants with his fellow sharp-witted showbiz judge James Blunt. “I don’t know anybody like James, really,” he says. “He’s got that correct English accent, you know? Like, ‘I would raley rathuh nawt.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, wow! That’s a movie accent to me!’”
IF YOU GO
at 2015 Silicon Valley Ball
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 12
Contact: (650) 369-7770; www.siliconvalleyball.com