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'Take It From Me' by Izzie Derry
One conundrum I face with reviewing the calibre of artist I tend to focus on (it's an enjoyable challenge really) is how to handle it when people you really admire still manage to exceed even your own sky high expectations?
What words do you use in later pieces when you have already used up your superlatives in earlier ones? I faced this with trying to describe the other week how Titine La Voix's superb voice had got even more superb. Today's challenge is to try to describe to you the new EP from Izzie Derry, ‘Take It From Me' which comes out on February 23rd (you can pre-order it from tomorrow & actually get the title track at that moment) when I raved so much about the material on her ‘Lost At Sea' EP from last April: songs which then & now I believed were her best to date & I certainly wasn't alone in thinking that.
Now I've heard her four new ones & already other people with really great perspectives, either due to their professional experience or from having followed her career for a long time, are again joining me in dubbing it "her best ever": even better than the last lot & that set the bar very high.
As a sort of transitional route between the two EPs, as I reported last month, Roger Lomas remixed the track "Learn To Grow" from ‘Lost At Sea' as a single, but now, as I also mentioned in the review, we come to a set of tracks recorded from scratch at his studio. Many indicators of artists' progress must be quite subtle to pick up, but in Izzie's case to get the approval of a Grammy winning producer & band like Fairport Convention within a few months of each other, the story this tells is a really clear one. She's rated by those who really know.
Working with the close band of collaborators she has had over the last couple of years,(the lineup being Izzie Derry, vocals & guitar, Jake Morris on bass, Herbie Walker on keyboards & backing vocals, Tom Hammerton on electric guitar & Noah Haines on drums) the new songs are "All For Something", "Now I See", "Fire" and "Take It From Me".
If Izzie's musical progression can be rendered graphically as a steep upwards curve, then perhaps her own perceptions of her life in general can also be followed with some clarity via another medium too: her songs. The vast majority of them are in depth self examinations of herself, her life & her reflections on the world she inhabits: and they are both soul searching & beautifully articulated. If her ‘Goodbye' album was the work of a writer leaving home, ‘Lost At Sea' was a series of musings on her subsequent internal as well as external journey and now we have Chapter Three.
"All For Something" opens the EP with a theme of challenging self doubt (knowing Izzie you won't be surprised to hear that despite her rigorous self analysis, she does locate positives). Lyrically it is her most mature to date with elements of opposing thoughts having to be reconciled & there is an element of accepting the possibility of failure which the pure optimism of earlier songs didn't so readily admit. Musically, the progression is again a big jump forwards: although her work with a band since ‘Goodbye' has brought excellent new textures & nuances to her songs, this one really is a "full" arrangement with Roger's skill building a much more "band" sound, powerful, with hints of modern jazz & full of little touches which add a range of emphases to the various twists & turns of the lyrics.
"Now I See" is maybe Izzie's first really adult romantic song and again self doubt is part of her thinking (we are blessed indeed with wonderful local musicians of skill & sensitivity but you can't help feeling for some of them as people: I've said as much in recent reviews of Joe Dolman & Ollie Bond and now we have another: the line between sensitive & ego free self examination & "beating oneself up" can be a thin one. May they all enjoy happy times ahead). This one musically is a little closer to her recent types of arrangement, steadily building with instruments joining in to ramp up the emotional clout and again to vary the sonic picture subtly.
"Fire" is Izzie like you have never heard her on record before: this really emotive track has a power of its own & leaves the "folk" box she has been filed in hitherto in her career way behind her (she now refers to herself as "folk rock" on social media): this is a calling card for her as a diverse style performer, being much more jazz/blues. It certainly reminds me how I felt when I heard her with her full band in the summer of 2019: used to her by herself or with a small band, the sheer loudness was a (pleasant) shock as was the sight of them genuinely rocking out. In a way I suppose a parallel would by with Ellie Gowers' recent & equally astonishing "Against the Tide": a break out of constraints type of quantum leap. Like every song on this EP, great as her voice has always been, I think this is the moment for Izzie to sing this song as her vocalisation owes much to her accumulating experience as much as to her innate talent: we are talking ‘Torch Song Izzie' here. It sizzles with emotion & truth and for the first time on the record the emotional & internal doubts are pushed aside for a moment.
The title track, which as I said above can be accessed from the 9th & so is possibly the first song you'll hear, concludes this stunning set & like "Now I See" it's a builder and the closest to her previous styles in terms of sound & lyrical concerns. I'm going to put myself on the line here (just watch me get it wrong), but it sounds more like the ideas she was exploring on ‘Lost At Sea' so I'm wondering if it was the earliest of these four to be written? However, on the other hand it does speak with a confidence of tone consistent with overcoming the previously expressed self doubts so....
Roger in his inimitable way has taken an existing gem of a talent and added extra polish: his work enhances Izzie's songs & shows them off to their best advantage & never imposes upon them. He knows so much about how to structure the arrangements & you can hear that & his approach to mixing ensures that the songs themselves have an almost indefinably new way of sounding to her previous ones.
Above all of course, this is an EP of progression: five musicians spending more & more time playing together & learning how to do so to greater & greater effect. A writer who is exploring more & more exciting possibilities for expressing herself & whose voice is adapting itself to all of them. A triumph & a major career milestone.
"Learn To Grow" by Izzie Derry
It's odd: the more reviews you write, the more patterns emerge. Sometimes they are pretty obvious ones like when you spot how certain artists are on a hot streak & releasing material prolifically. Other ones like the fact that artists are greatly favouring EPs over albums probably illustrate music business wide trends.
One which certainly isn't as widespread & so probably more reflects the values of & pride in their own compositions of particular artists is of (re)releasing tracks which have already come out, either in new arrangements/mixes (for example Antonia Kirby's recent "Fool"/"Fool (Funk)") or completely new recordings.
One such example of the latter was Izzie Derry's "Let This One Be Mine" reworked in September 2019 after having appeared on her debut album. I applauded her dedication to this song at the time, but assumed that it was a one off reflecting a very specific desire to maximise the effect of the song as she originally conceived it & after reflecting on the first recording over a long period of time. After all Izzie is most definitely on a roll with new compositions which are clearly developing her writing each time.
However, to confound me (and maybe all good artists should confound even their followers who kid themselves that they "get" them?), she is following up her last release, "In A Year" (released on December 12th 2019 & reviewed in "Hot Music Live" the same day) with a new mix of her "Learn To Grow" single of April 2019 and which also appeared on her ‘Lost At Sea' EP in the same month.
Bearing in mind that I have said very publicly that this was, to my mind one of her strongest songs to date & certainly a really strong candidate for my personal Izziesong, why do this? Clearly there was absolutely nothing wrong with the original release.
The answer in fact seems ironically to lie less in any weakness but conversely the very excellence of the track. Grammy award winning producer Roger Lomas has joined the swelling mass of Izzie Derry fans and a desire to work with her band (and I have strong reasons to believe that they have been recording brand new tracks together for release in 2020) led him to also focus on "Learn To Grow" and suggest to Izzie some great ideas he had for a remix. So here you have it. Same track, same recording (by Jake Morris) and same musicians (Izzie Derry on vocals & guitar, Herbie Walker playing keyboards and providing backing vocals, Tom Hammerton on electric lead guitar, Jack Smith on bass, Noah Haines plays drums & Ellie Timlin and Eva Trim are also on backing vocals) yet now with the Lomas stardust sprinkled on it.
And why not? After all I have often remarked how strong Izzie's writing skills are given that her songs can be equally effectively played in a variety of formats & arrangements: they are very robust as well as flexible. I have seen & heard this one alone presented with just an acoustic guitar, with a "half band" of acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards & backing vocals and with a full band adding drums & electric lead guitar.
So what does the new mix sound like? To be frank, I am always sceptical of remixes. Some serve the useful purpose of correcting inadequacies in the original version which begs the obvious question of why the first try was released. Others I find tend to elevate the artistic vision of the remixer over the artist & their vision of the song. For me, the ideal remix is one which not only retains what the artist intended for the song & the original skill of performance but offers both the composer & their audience an interesting & valid new perspective on the material. Some songs simply aren't strong enough to support such varieties of interpretations & others are just nailed so well first time that the possibility of revisiting them is rendered a bit futile.
Fortunately this instance is an ideal example of taking something which was inherently really strong and looking at it in a new way which serves to demonstrate just how good it is. Roger's instinct for the possibility was as spot on as you'd imagine & nothing in the new mix detracts from "Learn to Grow" nor the original performances: quite the reverse.
To my ears, the changes tend towards create new tensions & dynamics throughout the piece which in turn place new emphasis upon the excellent lyrics which of course are one of the glories of this great song. In some places, instrumentation seems more muted which places Izzie's voice in a more prominent place (leaving elements such as snare drum or muted guitar strumming as the main accompaniment), notably in the reflective parts of the song, only to surge back to full arrangements in the bits when she is singing triumphantly about having learned to grow or intending to grow yet further: creating a really effective contrast between the two aspects of her thought. Other changes seem to point towards Roger's great experience & subtlety as individual instruments suddenly come to the fore for a short period: particularly little bass licks & the keyboard parts and one very catchy & eerie sound which I can't even identify: possibly generated by keyboard or even electric guitar.
It's the final section however, the culmination of the song where the most powerful changes are located: a staggering finale when massed vocals build to a climax, parts overlapping with each other in a manner which if anything reminds me of the sort of thing Kirsty MacColl used to do in emulation of the Beach Boys: multiple layered harmonies with herself. What an effect.
As I said just now, despite my considerable respect for all concerned, I came to this as with any remix in a state of caution & am delighted to say that it is a very worthy exercise which definitely takes this fine song somewhere really worth going. I urge you to buy both versions. They are worth it.
Russell Whitehead who made the excellent video for the single when it first came out has kindly made a new one (in collaboration with Laurence Moore) which can be seen here;
His video of the original single is still available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwYqLoItFLA&fbclid=IwAR1VTiP2m0-Z2ditQZgJTIkSKJUw5wI7Y8tEN9QXnWBVyWvF3-mJU1wGczQ
"In A Year" by Izzie Derry
December 12th is a date many people have possibly been looking forwards to or dreading for various reasons. However setting those aside, I am sure everyone reading this will feel extremely positive about the day also marking the release of the new Izzie Derry single, "In A Year", her first since her reworked version of "Let This One Be Mine" in September and prior to that, her acclaimed ‘Lost At Sea' EP in April.
The song features a lineup very familiar to those of you who have witnessed any of her full band performances over the last couple of years, namely Izzie Derry on guitar & vocals, Herbie Walker (keyboards and backing vocals), Tom Hammerton (guitar), Jake Morris (bass) and Noah Haines (drums and percussion) plus Gabija KasiliauskaitÄ— on violin. It was recorded and mixed by Alex Gordon & mastered by Ally Jowett.
This particular song has been around for a year or so & I can see why she has chosen now to release a recorded version as it is built around a constantly ascending & descending guitar pattern with ringing notes which very much emulate bells one might associate with those found around the necks of animals pulling sleighs. As with Izzie's other releases since getting together with the collaborators above, the final release is arranged with consummate taste: each of the superb musicians brings her & his skills to the song, each clearly has a deep understanding of Izzie & her material & the result is a track which brings out & emphasises the core composition (which I originally was aware of as a solo guitar arrangement), adding texture & nuances without in any way detracting from its essence.
However the song in terms of lyrics is as much to do with the end of year reflections one tends to make a week after Christmas than the latter festival, and as such has much in common with the themes of ‘Lost At Sea' whose songs tend towards the ruminative. Mind you, the pace at which Izzie's life & career are developing these days, one wonders how much must have already changed & be worthy of further reflection in the period between writing it & releasing it. Nevertheless, the sentiments she expresses are sufficiently profound & philosophical as to embrace her life 2019-2020 as they do 2018-2019 & you can even have a peek into aspects of the former through a delightful diary type video featuring Izzie, her band & friends (look out for a cameo from "Hot Music Live Present Volume Two" star Hannah Woof). You can find this via the following link:
At a time of year when music lovers need to grit their teeth & endure the recurring aural barrage of "festive" songs which shuffle a limited pack of clichés which don't reflect the experiences of any of us, it is so uplifting that in one week I have reviewed two songs (the other being Sophie Hadlum's "Winter Came Around Too Fast") which approach the season from a perspective of emotional intelligence & truth, even better that both are local writers & still better that both has featured on our own "Hot Music Live Presents'..
Izzie Derry live at the Godiva Festival: not once but twice
While everyone at "Hot Music Live" is getting excited about the "Hot Music Live Introducing" night at the Zephyr Lounge on 20th October in conjunction with "Alternative Sounds", Ella B Music & Peter Drew Productions, you can catch one of the stars of that evening not once but twice at this year's Godiva Festival. "Alternative Sounds" and "BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Introducing" star Izzie Derry will be playing the Acoustic Stage with her full band on Friday 31st August at 7 pm & the following day, Saturday 1st September, again with her full band, she'll be playing the BBC Stage at 2.30 pm
See you there