Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
Here’s a great example of how internet rabbit holes work. I wanted to find out if the Broccoli family that produced the James Bond movies was named after the vegetable or the other way around (answer: inconclusive but leaning toward the former). I learned that broccoli was considered a delicacy in America in the early 20th century. Then I remembered the famous New Yorker cartoon. Well, I thought, that explains that, and went to learn more about that. This was where I learned that Irving Berlin wrote a song called “I Say It’s Spinach (And the Hell With It),” so of course I had to go find it on YouTube.
This is how I discovered Isto.
Where most people named Christopher go by Chris or Topher, Christopher White chose to go for the middle part of the name for his nom de YouTube. He’s a guitarist based in Newark, NJ, teaching his craft there and in New York City, and while he does cover more modern stuff, from Dylan to the Ducktales theme, his wheelhouse is jazz standards and Great American Songbook songs, and has been since he started posting videos on YouTube in 2009. He’s got a pleasant voice, real instrumental chops, and a relaxed vibe that makes listening to him more addictive than nicotine popcorn. Listen to a few of these and see if they don’t get you digging for more on your own.
Isto – I’ll Be Seeing You (Irving Kahal / Sammy Fain cover)
Isto’s most-viewed video on YouTube is one of his earliest; over a third of a million people have heard him play “I’ll Be Seeing You.” They’ve also seen his trademark exit, scooting off camera as quick as he can. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra both took the song top-five, and Liberace made it his theme song, but none of them ever left ’em wanting more quite the way Isto does.
Isto – Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael cover)
“Stardust” is closing in on its 100th birthday, bearing none of the weight of those years on its shoulders. Its gossamer melody has kept it in the forefront of the musical world for decades on end, performed by artists from Bing Crosby to John Coltrane to Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan. Isto keeps the magic alive in his version; I love the little flurry of notes at 2:27.
Isto – All of Me (Gerald Marks / Seymour Simons cover)
“All of Me” is one of those songs that sounds miserable if you only read the words and overjoyed if you only hear the music. While Isto is able to key into both those, the music wins out here, especially in the mid-song instrumental break.
Isto – I Am the Walrus (The Beatles cover)
Isto plays other instruments besides acoustic guitar; he also specializes in ukulele, as you can imagine, and here he performs “I Am the Walrus” on Hawaiian steel guitar. It seems the perfect instrument for it, and his dropping in the bits of King Lear and such from the Beatles’ studio recording fit perfectly. A good indicator that he’s no retro one-trick pony.
Isto & Son – You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby (Johnny Mercer cover)