It makes perfect aesthetic sense: Grammy-nominated retro rocker Chris Isaak playing his New Year’s Eve concert in town Friday, backing his self-issued “Live at the Fillmore” recording, again appearing at the fabled Fillmore.
But fans should pay close attention. Along with catalog classics such as “Wicked Game,” “Western Stars” and “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing,” the Stockton-bred crooner will debut some startling new material — songs from an album he has been threatening to make since his rockabilly-inflected 1985 debut “Silvertone.”
For starters, Isaak — who has acted in TV and film and even hosted his own talk show — is feeling a new sense of creative freedom.
When his contract with longtime label Warner Bros. recently expired, he formed his own imprint, Wicked Game, currently licensed through Jimmy Buffet’s Mailboat Records.
“But it wasn’t like I left Warners in a legal haze,” he says. “I’m still on good terms with them, and I still work with them on different projects. But it’s a different time in the music business, and you’re in an even stronger position when you’re a free agent.”
That is what has allowed the 54-year-old to finally record an album tentatively titled “Beyond the Sun,” or “Lucky Old Sun” — he has yet to decide.
It is a concept album that will contain several slap-back originals, Isaak promises, “plus music that originated with artists who worked with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios. So it might have an early Elvis song from Sun, and then a later Elvis, or a Jerry Lee Lewis from Sun and something later on. I hate to say ‘rockabilly,’ because that’s the wrong word. It’s really just roots rock.”
To give the tracks an authentic feel, Isaak will be booking his own reverb-vintage Sun Session in Memphis, Tenn.
“We’re going to try not to use headphones,” he says. “We want to play quietly in one room, where we can all hear each other. I think it’ll be fun, but it’s also going to teach us a lot.”
Isaak is no stranger to the Phillips style. He has been fortunate enough to work with, and even befriend, several late Sun vets — Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
“It’s been a charmed life,” he says. “But if you looked at how I spent my time when I was 23 and how I spend it now, it’s about the same thing. I get up, eat a bowl of cereal, and I’ve got rock ’n’ roll music playing all damned day. I’m either listening to it, playing it or thinking about it. Or working on it!”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 371-5500, www.livenation.com