Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: Izzy's In Awe of You

In Awe of You (VGR Entertainment)
Released May 2006
reviewed by LaTonya Taylor

4 out of 5 stars

Sounds like … Soulful R&B for fans of Smokie Norful, J Moss or John Legend.

At a glance … Izzy's earnest tenor and whimsical production sensibilities make In Awe of You a solid debut—and a great listen.

Izzy (full name Israel Bell) is among the first artists signed to Maryland-based VGR Entertainment. Nicknamed "the urban psalmist," his debut In Awe of You seems to reflect his artistic and production vision with an earnest, melismatic tenor, and a techno-soul, rhythm 'n' praise vibe.

Izzy wrote and produced most of the tracks himself, but the album's strength is in its restraint. Even though his techno, R&B and house music influences are clear, Izzy doesn't let the toys take over. The harmonies are tight but mellow, without lots of slick, overproduced electronic layers. The result is an album that makes the most of technology while also preserving the authenticity of the human touch. Production is occasionally playful, like at the end of "Maintain," where the drum track slows, eventually stuttering to a stop, or "You Are," which integrates children's voices over the chorus.

Other potential favorites include "Destiny," which has the easy feel of friends singing around the piano. It's got a nice, rolling groove and would make great material for a small ensemble. "Can't Nobody" is a fun, head-bobbing cruise that's great for summer. Izzy flexes his storytelling muscles in "Need Him Now," which merges sounds of the city with the stories of people in need of compassion.

The title track is a piano-driven ballad with a small corps providing vocals that anchor Izzy's worshipful ad-libs. "Never Let Go Your Hand" is similarly passionate, and "Hand Clap Joint" is danceable, replete with Latin guitar, cartoonish accents, and handclap percussion. "Heaven" is an updated reinterpretation of the contemporary classic recorded by BeBe & CeCe Winans in 1988. Here, Izzy deftly adds touches that accent what we liked about the original without disturbing its essence. The combination of Izzy's vocal and his creative, often whimsical production sensibilities make In Awe of You a solid debut—and a great listen.

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