After a while there’s only so much acoustic blues music you can listen to without it starting to become tedious. It’s not the music’s fault, it’s the fact that there are far too many people out there playing it who really have no business doing so. Acoustic blues is apparently a fairly simple genre to play, judging by how many people are all of a sudden either recording or performing it. It seems like every time I receive a new batch of material to review there are a couple of new acts trying their hand at it, and far too many of these acts just don’t have what’s necessary to make the music interesting.
So it was with some trepidation that I began listening to Preachin’ The Blues by the duo Izzy & Chris on the 80/20 Music Entertainment label. I was all prepared to have to try and force myself to pay attention to their music. Far too many of the discs like it that I’ve received lately have been so boring that all the songs end up sounding the same. However, I quickly realized that these guys weren’t like that at all as the first song reached out and grabbed me by the ears and made me listen.
The intangibles that go into making a good blues song are sometimes hard to spell out. First of all, different things appeal to different people, so that something which might make a blues song work for me is going to turn you off. We all have different emotional triggers, and blues has to be able to work on an almost primal level for it to make a connection to its audience. If the performer doesn’t connect to you emotionally you’re not going to be that interested in him. Personally I respond more to the tonal quality of a performance rather than to what a band is actually saying with its lyrics. I listen to quite a lot of music where I don’t even understand the lyrics because they’re being sung in a language I don’t know, but I can still relate to the music because of what they are able to communicate in other ways.
Izzy & Chris are Israel Stetar on guitar and vocals and Christopher Nacy on harmonica. Izzy could have been singing in pig-Latin, and I would still have been moved by their music. Right from the opening guitar chords of the first song on the disc, “Steady Rollin’ Daddy”, you get that shiver up your spine that tells you’re about to hear something special.
One of the things I noticed right away was that they weren’t trying to impose their will upon the music. Some players will try and make their guitar sound more “emotional” by strumming or plucking harder, playing faster, or doing something else to “colour” their music. Izzy just lets the music speak for itself, and in doing so he’s found a way for it to express what he’s feeling with the same amount of power that his voice does. I don’t know how it works, but when a person is completely focused on what they are doing and are willing to invest everything they do with all of themselves, it shines like a beacon on a dark night. Izzy is somehow putting so much of himself into his guitar playing that each note “talks” to the listener. It doesn’t seem to matter what speed he’s playing at either, as each note is alive with a little piece of his soul that comes through loud and clear.
Chris does much the same with his harmonica playing. Now, I’ve heard guys who play fast and loud, and can fill the air with a million notes. They bend notes left, right, and centre in an effort to show off their harmonica virtuosity, and put on a really good show. However, half the time I don’t really feel anything while listening to them. From what I heard on this disc, though, Chris doesn’t seem hung up on what impression he makes on the listener, he’s more concerned with making sure he serves the song. When he bends a note it’s only because he’s expressing the curve of an emotion as it arcs through a song, not to show off. It’s not often that a harp player is able to send shivers up my spine just by playing a single note, but there’s something about Chris’s playing that was able to do that time and time again throughout this recording.
As befits the plain, rough-hewn style of music, the vocals are rough and unadorned. If they’ve used anything like reverberation in the recording process it’s so little that you can barely tell. Again, like their playing, Izzy does force anything when he sings, content with allowing his voice to come out as naturally as possible. Just the sound of his voice is able to communicate a depth of feeling that is usually lacking in performers who try to be expressive.
There are only a couple of acoustic blues artists I can listen to on regular basis anymore, as the rest have just become far too tedious. With Preachin’ The Blues Izzy & Chris have made a very convincing argument that they should be included among those few worth listening too. They show a dedication and commitment to the music that you don’t often find these days. As a result there’s also an emotional honesty to what they do that makes them hard to resist and a pleasure to listen to. If you’ve been looking for some really good acoustic blues, you need look no further than these guys.