Izabella: Drugs & Apple Pie

By: Dennis Cook

Opener “Million $ Song” rushes out with pure summer warmth, a perfect vibe for late night tangos when the company is gone and you’re free to twirl to a great song that just brightens the whole room. And it’s far from the only cut with bounteous potential for widespread appeal. While nurtured and evolved within the jam scene, Izabella cruises with friendly, audience snagging charm – clever, sharply crafted music that readily extends a hand to pull one out of doldrums and workaday ennui. Commercial potential isn’t something I generally bring up but folks down with moe. and Dave Matthews interested in something not dissimilar with its own soulful curve are going to find lots to dig on Drugs & Apple Pie, which hums with updated transistor radio flare.

Besides one of the tightest, tastiest rhythm teams around – Mark Murphy (bass) and Lucas Carlton (drums) – Izabella possesses a remarkably soulful lead singer in Brian Rogers, whose pipes suggest a rootsier Corey Glover (Living Colour) with similar grit, soul and flow but something a touch sweeter that surfaces on tropical prog romp “Beauty In The Journey” and in his phrasing in general. Sharp, Steely Dan-esque lead guitar from Sean Lehe and strong splashes of keyboard color from Jeff Coleman and Sam Phelps complete their rich, uncluttered feel. There’s a lot going on most of the time but not so as you’d make note of it; each aspect serves the songs and the songs are pretty darn strong. From the sprightly anti-Iraq War ditty “Ain’t Going Back” to the skipping electric jazz pop of “Everything’s Wonderful Now” to the aforementioned classic-single-in-waiting “Million $ Song,” Izabella has chosen these tracks with care, and even tucked in a cool experimental jag near the end full of freaky fingerpicking, jittery percussion and honestly psychedelic lyrics.

Like early Steely Dan (the first three albums when they were still a group and not the Becker/Fagen show), Izabella are smart, mildly subversive cats that can’t resist a good groove, and their foundations as tour dogs and festival regulars lingers in the backdrop of even the most focused pieces. They get that the studio and the stage are different things, and their ability to shine in both realms is rare. Drugs & Apple Pie sounds great and etches out their features as a group. Between this new material and their bona fide live chops, Izabella seems ready to hop onto bigger stages, perhaps the perfect opener for Matthews or moe., that’d surely prove a happy surprise for their fans as they build their own following one sure step at a time.

Also worth noting is the companion EP, The Stimulus Package, which picks up the remaining tracks from these recording sessions. It’s five more strong cuts with a bit more rock edge to them. But, they chose the right sequence for the main album, further evidence of their sharp instincts.

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