Izzy Cox…The Murder Ballad Queen
Many of today’s underground bands and singer/songwriters have gone back to the roots of early music and seem intent on carrying the torch passed on by the old-time legends of song. One such artist is the very talented and enchanting Izzy Cox, whose country and blues sound, together with a touch of rock’n’roll, has won over countless audiences and obscure music enthusiasts alike. “Voodoobilly Jazz” is the term she has coined to describe her sound, and after listening to her songs nonstop the past few weeks I must say it is rather fitting. So are the terms “outlaw Americana” and “steam-punk,” which have also been used to pinpoint her musical niche. But in all fairness to Izzy, there is no way to comfortably insert her sound into one limited little category, as her sound is decidedly as multi-faceted and complex as she is herself.
Often referred to as the Murder Ballad Queen, Izzy Cox is definitely a songstress like no other. Her extensive repertoire of songs include such titles as “Bad Bad Woman,” “Electric Chair,” “Devil in Me,” “F*cking n’ Fighting,” “Hoodoo Voodoo Gal,” “Thorazine,” and “Devil, Devil,” among many others, implying that she has dedicated herself to doing wrong the right way. Even more than the sound she has developed, though, it’s her voice that is truly and utterly exceptional. It’s a voice that seems to flow forward through the times, beginning in post-war Jazz Age America and moving onward through the Depression-era Blues of the deep south, and then the ’50s Rockabilly set, all the way up to the here and now.
Speaking of the here and now, it is indisputable that we live in a time where it is getting more and more difficult to draw genre lines between styles of music, mostly because of the bands and singer/songwriters that combine so many styles into heterogeneous mixtures of sound, thus creating the great melting pot of music. It is a very exciting time in the world of underground and independent music, and Izzy Cox is certainly one of the more exciting artists to watch for…or listen for, as it clearly is in this case…or both.
Now, when I think of female singer/songwriters that have contributed important, meaningful and worthwhile songs to the world, names like Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey come to mind, among a few select others. When I think of today’s heroines of song, names like Molly Gene One Whoaman Band, Miss-Ipi, Annalisa Tornfelt, Becky Lee & Drunkfoot, Tori Amos, Rachel Brooke come to mind…and now, so too does Izzy Cox.
Spending much of her youth going back and forth between Montreal, Canada, and rural Texas, one cultural and geographical extreme to the next, Izzy found herself restless and ready to hit the road at the age of twelve. Unlike most teenagers, she began living and working at horse racing tracks. She also obtained employment with traveling circuses. By sixteen she was in a juvenile delinquent institution, where she really began writing and playing her own songs. Those songs soon found their way into a two tape track recordings, the first of her songs to be committed to any kind of format. Years later, Izzy was back in Montreal. It was while there that she became involved in the independent music scene, playing beside the who’s who of indie music, like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Rufus & Martha Wainwright, Arcade Fire, The Stars, and so on. A very dedicated artist, to be sure, Izzy released ten records and played at different venues anywhere between four and six nights per week during that time.
Izzy eventually boarded a Greyhound bus heading west. In Hollywood, California — at a backyard vegan barbeque, no less — that she bumped into and befriended the very accomplished guitarist Billy Pitman. Now, Pitman had already had a rather successful musical career, playing with the likes of Jimmie Vaughn, Lou Ann Barton, Billy Gibons, Reverend Horton Heat, and Eric Clapton. After seeing Izzy’s live solo set, Pittman was quick to join up with her for his next musical endeavor. But Izzy has written and performed songs with numerous artists over the years, like Soda & His Million Piece Band, for example, and many others. Just for her latest release “Killing My Kind” she had the various talents of well over two dozen other Austin-based musicians to record thirty-some songs over a two year period. Only sixteen of those songs actually made the cut to appear on the album, however. And though the songs on “Killing My Kind” were recorded between The Wire and Arlyn Studios in Austin, they were all written, produced, mixed and mastered by Izzy herself.
“Love Letters from the Electric Chair” was the album that preceded “Killing My Kind” in 2007. It was actually a guerilla recording session, since Grant Capes sneaked Izzy and her bandmates into the Los Angeles studio to lay down the fourteen tracks that were to be on the album. Though the album cover only shows Izzy Cox’s name, she referred to her band at that time as Izzy Cox & The Eskimos, and it consisted of Billy Pittman on lead guitar, Dan Reilly on bass, Ronny Lik on drums, and a handful of auxiliary musicians. In fact, “Love Letters from the Electric Chair” is still available from several sources.
More recently – this past spring, in fact – Izzy played a number of shows during the Hank Williams III and Assjack tour. Those shows must have really been something, being that Hank III is one of those rare musicians and singer/songwriters that is ushering modern music into a new and wholly worthwhile era…or rather, dragging it forth, like a wrecker truck towing a broke-down Chevy. But then again, she has shared the stage with many notable bands and singer/songwriters over the years.
In addition to everything else she is involved in, this past year Izzy started playing as a one-woman band under the moniker Izzy Cox & the Economic Recession Band of 2010. That’s very exciting to me, since I have been hard at work on what I call my One-Man Band Series for the past year and a half. Truth be told, I am hoping that I can interview Izzy and do another piece on her for that particular series. But that’s something else altogether. And…well, we will have to just wait and see.
Texas certainly has an abundance of worthwhile bands and singer/songwriters, true enough, but there are those who few out of the lot that really stand out, both past and present, making it a musical location to be reckoned with. Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Blind Lemon Jefferson were from Texas, after all. As far as present day Texas, there are artists such as Scott H. Biram, Tom VandenAvond, Reverend Horton Heat, and John Konrad Wert (a.k.a. Possessed by Paul James) – all brilliant in what they do, granted – but I would also name Izzy Cox as one of its most precious musical exports.