(5 / 5)
I finally gave in. I have been fighting the urge to switch the gas heating back on after the summer. Last night, I waved the white flag. So, I’m much warmer now at my gaff, and in turn, in a much better frame of mind and mood. Made even better by hearing this little gem again.
I have had this triumphant album here for some weeks, but only played it the once before today, during a regular “listening session”, to decide what gets reviewed and what bites the dust. No matter how good or how bad an album, EP, DVD or book is; I vow to always hear it or watch it or to read it from start to finish, without fail. Always have, for nigh on 40 years, and always will. Preconceived ideas are irrelevant.
Sometimes that can be like pushing a fully laden truck uphill with the handbrake stuck on, and the road covered in thick treacle. But sometimes, and this is the case with this one, it makes life really, really worth living. Sometimes you need to hear all of a record to know if it is worth coverage or not. Rarely you know instantly. That is the case here.
From the off. The voice, oh, especially this voice. The songs. The strength of material. The production. The musicianship. The overall vibe. The whole thing is a winner. Izzi Dunn may not be known to you as a solo artist. But you may well have heard her talents on the cello, on music from Mark Ronson, Damon Albarn, Jamie T and many others.
Here, she sings, and has a lovely, lovely instrument. She also plays cello on her record. She co-writes 11 of the dozen cuts and pens one on her own. She has fans in Jamie Cullum and Trevor Nelson. The latter says, “a thing of beauty”. Mr Cullum says: “She can do anything.” Who am I to argue? Not after hearing this set.
This is soulful, old and nu soul genres merged with jazz flavours, and brush strokes of classical on the string arrangements, and her vocal is so lush you could almost drown in it. Laura Mvula terrritory sometimes maybe, (very much so on the epic closer “Don’t Let Them”), and her voice reminding me of Alice Russell at times. But Izzi definitely has her own thing going on. There may be nods to the likes of Carleen Anderson, Caron Wheeler and perhaps Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, and even bands like Incognito. But this is not a retro thing at all; this is very much on trend.
The British artist returns with this new album “Recycle Love”, after a busy five year hiatus, where she was continuously in demand as cellist for some of the biggest names in music. On the new album, Izzi recruited seasoned producer Dego (2000 Black/4hero), who co-produced six tracks on the album, bringing in his signature unique brand of tough London funk. British ensemble The Haggis Horns (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lily Allen), supplied the rich brass touches to four songs, meanwhile, Izzi’s own Demon Strings band added the final touches to the production. The album was partly recorded at Damon Albarn’s ‘13 Studios’.
She nails an old school funk groove on the infectious “Lady”, and the superb C.O.N.T.R.O.L. sounds like a lost Janet Jackson or Brand New Heavies cut. The rapturous album closer “Don’t Let Them” is formed of three parts, kicking off with a short spoken-word piece before the rootsy middle gives way to a celebratory, riotous finale of strings, bass and horns. This is one that will grow on you the more time you spin it, to appreciate the various layers and the effort that has gone in to craft such a beautiful piece of work as this track.
The first real “wow moment” though arrived earlier in the album, with track # 5, “Belong”. Izzi wrote this one on her own, played all the instruments on the track and produced it. The vocal is frigging awesome. The vibe is so chilled and so sublime. A gorgeous job. The penultimate track, “Devices”, sees Izzi adopting a Diva soul sister modus operandi for the vocal, an innate style that fits her like a glove on a lovely soulful ballad she wrote with Tee Bowry.
Izzi’s mother an opera singer and her father a singer and radio presenter. Growing up in Sheffield, she was perennially accompanied by a myriad of sounds. She’d travel with her parents on the tour circuit, and with their support, drawn to live music, took up cello aged nine. Later, with her ear tuned to different styles and her tastes more finely honed, Izzi was enamoured with strong, passionate vocalists, especially the classic sounds of folk-soul chanteuse Tracy Chapman, soul diva Chaka Khan, British R&B pioneer Carleen Anderson and the Queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J Blige.
Recognising her own ample vocal capabilities alongside her comfortable proficiency with the strings, Izzi’s twin-threat approach of singer-songwriter and cellist was thus born. Izzi’s debut as a solo artist was 2004’s “The Big Picture”, a gutsy, understated album. British music stalwarts Roots Manuva and Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B took notice, promptly recruiting her string talents for their own sessions; so too did Bugz In The Attic – crucially adding a live angle to the West London production unit’s digital soul sound.
Heading up the Demon Strings, Izzi became not just a driving component of studio productions, but a key element in the live shows of pop’s most credible names, joining Mark Ronson, Jimmy Cliff and Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, and The Good, The Bad and The Queen line-ups on worldwide tours. Her own follow-up solo record, 2010’s invigorating “Cries & Smiles”, was very well received. A touch more refined than her debut. The grandiose production evoking the best of Massive Attack and Portishead.
Over the years she has been recruited by music royalty to arrange and record with the likes of the late great soul legend Bobby Womack, hip-hop’s most revered newcomer Jay Electronica, and alt-rocker Cody Chesnutt for each of their 2012 albums. 2012 was also the year of Izzi’s four-track acoustic EP, ‘Visions’.
“Recycle Love” marks a welcome return to releasing her own material. The songs speak of strength and determination, heartache and hope; they are sophisticated, very well produced and delivered with style and most of all; sheer class. One of the very best female voices on the British soul and R&B scene right now, bar none. You can quote me on that, for sure. With pipes like hers; what the hell is she doing straddling a lump of wood for a living? “Recycle Love” is really, really, really well Dunn (see what I did there?)
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’