Man, I miss California. I really do. I don’t miss paying exorbitantly high rent. I don’t miss the collective panic that sets in whenever it rains and being in a mountain shack without power for ten days. I just miss the West – my ancestral homeland. Feeling that unconscious sense of being where I belong- ocean before me, mountains behind me, and good Mexican food.
Northern California band Izabella do a great job at helping to ease that feeling of displacement. A warm, sweet and heady blend of jam rock, funk, and soul that is totally steeped in the warm vibes and deep roots of the West Coast.
Now with a solidified line-up of Sean Lehe on guitar and vocals, multi-instrumentalist Brian Rogers on percussion, guitar, bass and lead vocals, Murph (no, not that guy!) on bass guitar, Sam Phelps and Jeff Coleman as the four-handed keyboardist and Lucas Carlton on the skins, Izabella is the culmination of years of jamming in the garage with various bands, jazz combos, burgeoning jam units. Juggling the daily obligations like families, day jobs, school while playing out as much as humanly possible. It’s a dedication and a musical relationship that reinforces the band’s groove on record, and is the electric undercurrent in their live performances – over 200 since late 2006.
There was a time when jam bands found the recording studio to be severely constraining. That “lightning in the bottle” live experience was hard to nail down in the studio. We’ve all heard from roommates and cousins, “dude, you really gotta hear them live.” The key empirical stuff of the “jam band experience” – that improvisational element that keeps the fans trading tapes and the communal vibes that keeps people coming to each show, means squat in the studio. So, it’s down to the root necessities – good instrumentation and good songwriting ability. Fortunately, Izabella has them both in spades. After my first listen to their new disc, Drugs and Apple Pie, for a moment I actually thought to myself – “Damn, what a killer first set!” The songs are solid and retain that live energy.
The album opens with “Million $ Song” – a bouncy tune resplendent with Hammond organ and bubbly wah-wah pedal guitar. It keeps a jazzy “Eyes of the World” type of riff before shifting gears into a soulful and catchy bridge.
“Everything’s Wonderful Now” is my favorite track on the album. A mid-tempo tune that strolls along with some mellow vocal harmonies behind Brian Roger’s off-kilter lyrics; starting with a hallucinatory trip to a zoo until his confessional refrain of “everything’s wonderful now”. The song dissolves into an ethereal keyboard passage and segues into a pair of funky acoustic sketches.
The album closes with “Sing Me Something” – a bluegrass/gospel rave-up played at breakneck speed. Ending on such a high, makes one immediately expect the house lights to come up and head for the beer line. If you buy the special “Stimulus Package” version of the album, you’ll get a bonus disc with a couple extra tracks. Their first two albums, 2007’s Dream When You Sleep and last year’s In the West are also available via CD Baby.
Izabella are a great example of a band who are unabashedly in love with the music that they create and it shows. They’ve secured a loyal following and will continue to make new friends and fans so long as they keep performing. There’s quite a few shows at the Live Music Archive and lots of goodies can be had at their website. They’re playing a few festivals on the West Coast and will be making their first pilgrimage to the East later this year.
Here’s the band themselves talking about the making of the album and what it’s all about. Enjoy and I’ll meet you back here next week!
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Oh, one more thing!
Since 2002, Conscious Alliance has collaborated with bands and fans to collect and distribute food for impoverished communities across the country. You can now take part in their Art That Feeds program and get yourself a beautiful poster by making a donation. There are some truly brilliant and inspired posters out there featuring artwork by everyone from Stanley Mouse to Kris D. Go check it out! Support a great cause and get something for your walls. To learn more about Conscious Alliance, go to www.consciousalliance.org.