Izzy and Chris Prove Worthy of the Hype
By J.F. Rote
Over the years I've lost count of the number of unsolicited CDs, agents' business cards and emails I've received touting the next best, biggest act to come down the highway since Dylan. And, as you might expect, most are bad. But the thing that keeps me listening is the handful that lives up to the hype. Izzy Stetar and Chris Nacy make the cut and then some.
This duo has, while just jumping into the blues world's consciousness, been paying their dues and living the life for some time. Chris, a keyboard player by training, picked up the harmonica in college and never looked back. He honed his skills on countless open stages sitting in when he could, solo when he couldn't. It wasn't long before a serious buzz began to rise in the Pittsburgh jazz and blues community on this hot new guy with great chops. He caught the attention of the legendary Smokin' Joe Bisceglia and became the late guitarist's sideman, playing with him until his death in 2002. By then Nacy was a committed blues man.
Izzy's journey into the blues began at a flea market in New Orleans. Music was his life, but the direction was uncertain. He began playing before he was 10, but it was not until, on a trip to the Big Easy, he stumbled upon a Robert Johnson album at an open air market. There was no turning back. Stetar honed his technique (and voice), in juke joints and cafes from Memphis to Pittsburgh. He walked the road. I first saw him open for phenomenal Ana Popovic - he not only blew the room away, but Ana stood front and center absorbing every lick and riff with a big smile. Izzy would go on to cop the Best Solo nod at the 2006 West Penn Blues Society competition.
We actually met at an open stage, said Nacy, at Moondogs, in Pittsburgh. Izzy was hosting and I asked to sit in. That was about a year ago. All those stories about us meeting in prison are exaggerated.
By the time they stopped playing, the crowd was on its feet screaming for more.
I've been doing the solo thing for some time, added Izzy. Really doin' the blues road thing. It started in New Orleans. I'd been driftin', following what was left of the Grateful Dead, and I wanted to pick my Dad up a blues
album. at a flea market, I randomly picked up a Robert Johnson CD. I had never heard of Robert Johnson it was just random. No doubt that turned my life. The road took Stetar to Memphis and Beale Street, the Mecca of American music and the blues.I played every bar that would have me, Izzy said, and the New Daisy Theater and every corner on the street.
Stetar made the finals, last year, at the International Blues Competition at the New Daisy, in Memphis. The buzz on this guy was growing. Shortly after hooking up with Nacy, the duo signed with 80/20 Records with their first release due next month. Not long after they became a team, Izzy and Chris took first place (solo/duo), at the Appalachian Blues Competition in Charleston. This earned them a berth at the 2008 International Blues Competition, on the stage of the New Daisy in Memphis.
These cats are what I call the next generation of blues legends. While their style is infused with the deep tradition of the Delta sound (and technique), what they bring to the art is as fresh and original as any blues jam should be it's done in their voice.
The CD is Preachin' The Blues Vol. I, but if you can't wait, catch the boys on Dec. 7 at the Front Row in Parkersburg, and on Dec. 29 at Baristas in New Martinsville. Mark it in the date book. You'll want to tell your grandkids about these guys one day.
Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guitarist Izzy Stetar, who hails from West Virginia, and St. Louis-born harpman Chris Nacy have been playing as a duo since 2006, and parlayed their appearance in the '08 IBC into a recording contract with 80..20 Entertainment. "Preachin' The Blues, Vol. 1," is an acoustic, delta-blues lover's dream. It's eleven tracks of Izzy's guitar and vocals punctuated by Chris' harp, played with the deep, mutual respect each man has for the forefathers of the blues.
Izzy picked up guitar at age nine, and was bitten by the blues bug after purchasing an Elmore James album at a New Orleans flea market. Chris has that innate ability to play several different styles of harp, making him an in-demand session player in the Pittsburgh area, where he now calls home.
It's as if these two fellows were born to play the blues together. Check out their interplay on "If You Hear Me Cryin," where Chris' harp follows the guitar line without missing a stroke. "Back To Memphis" is a good ole country-blues tune about their entry into thr 2008 IBC. No matter what vices someone may try, sometimes nothing works to heal the pain of a broken heart, in "All I Ever Wanted was to be your man." When the other shoe drops, tho, sometimes you just can't wait to get outta town, and the up-tempo "Leavin' You Baby" attests to this fact.
We had two favorites, too. On "Fentanyl Blues," Izzy uses a resonator to convey the problems that drugs can cause someone. There's no harp present, just Izzy and the dobro, and it is quite a powerful piece. The other is an ode to the current economic state of affairs, "Flat Broke And Busted." It has obviously become a staple at their live shows!
While listening to this album, we could not help but think of Cephas and Wiggins, and with the recent passing of John Cephas, it is fellows like Izzy and Chris that will carry on this style of blues. For those fans of the "Piedmont" style of blues, or just good, acoustic blues in general, give a listen to "Preachin' The Blues, Vol. 1." Until next time....Sheryl and Don Crow
Izzy & Chris are an acoustic blues playing duo based out of the Colliers, West Virginia/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania areas. Israel “Izzy” Stetar plays guitar and sings with pleasantly gritty vocals, while Chris Nacy plays Seydel harmonicas (he is an official endorsee of the company). The duo is one of the best acoustic acts that I’ve heard in a long time. Izzy Stetar plays a lot of rhythm guitar, with definite influences of John Cephas present in Izzy’s chord progressions and ringing notes (intentional or not, Mr. Cephas is a wonderful influence to have.) Nacy is a very tasty harmonica player from the Les Izmore (less is more) school of harmonicats, and he possesses a wonderful tone.
This fine sounding recording is rooted in Piedmont style but doesn’t stay there entirely. The duo doesn’t seem to be trying to break new ground or to show off; instead they do what they do very well, with both passion and precision. Izzy & Chris first played together at an open stage in the summer of 2006. The warm reception they received, along with the evident chemistry between the musicians, convinced Izzy & Chris that they needed to join forces.
Izzy, born in Weirton, West Virginia, began playing guitar at the age of nine. When he was 17 years old and visiting New Orleans, he was exposed to the music of Robert Johnson, forever changing his musical vision. He has dedicated his life to music and the blues since that time. In fact, Izzy was a finalist at the 2006 International Blues Competition.
Chris was born in St. Louis and got his musical start on piano at the young age of seven, picking up harmonica down the road a piece age-wise. After playing out for several years, he seriously committed himself to playing music after the death of a mentor of his in 2002.
(Thanks to SonicBids.com for much of the preceding biographical information concerning Izzy & Chris)
For St. Louis fans, Izzy & Chris could be compared to the young local sometime-duo of Curran and Andrews.
1. Steady Rollin’ Daddy
--This song starts the set off in fine fashion, with Izzy delivering a gruff vocal and Chris quickly showing us how tasty a harmonica player he is. The man has great tone; I think we’ll be hearing more about this guy as the years go by.
2. All I Ever Wanted
--This one has a pretty melody that may get you to thinking John Hurt, with Izzy talk-singing the lyric.
3. Shame, Shame, Shame
--Izzy works the lyric nicely here, singing with passion and soul. This one is about a no-good gal who went and broke poor Izzy’s heart. Chris’ harp provides a melancholy edge to the tune.
4. Leavin’ You Baby
--This is one of those happy-sounding tunes about getting rid of one of those no-good gals! The song is mostly rhythmic in feel, with a couple squalling turnarounds thrown in to shake things up a bit.
5. Back To Memphis
--This track has a harder-edged Piedmont feel to it, with Piedmont blues-styled music crossed with Delta blues-styled lyric themes. In the end all that matters is that it sounds great!
6. Flat Broke and Busted
--No money to pay the rent, and his baby isn’t any help at all…man, this guy has definitely got the blues. The boys sure do manage to make being broke sound mighty pretty, though. The Piedmont blues style has an intrinsic quality of gentleness and beauty, so much the better to make your real life blues feel at least a little less desperate.
7. If You Hear Me Cryin’
--This cut has a little harder edged feel, with a bit of melancholy present. Of course, as this song is about trying to get back to that girl you’ve been away from far too long, feelings of longing and melancholy would be expected.
8. Gotta Find My Baby
--This one has a jaunty feel, set up by Izzy’s rhythmic patterns on guitar. Chris lays in some nice harp leads and fills as well. The band really has two “vocalists”, with one being Izzy’s singing and the other being Chris’ harmonica playing, which has a voice-like quality to it.
9. Country Blues #5
--This one is a little different. It has a very pretty melody, but Izzy speaks the lyric rather than singing it. Chris’s harp playing is beautiful here.
10. Fentanyl Blues
--We’ve got an up-tempo track that lays out the dangers of getting your kicks the chemical way. Cocaine, pills and booze won’t be able to make you truly happy if you’re not at peace with your own life. Those devils will grab hold very tightly before you even realize what has happened. Men, each of you get yourself a fine woman, and women, each a fine man, and all of you leave those devils alone – the chemical kicks that is!
11. Preachin’ The Blues
--This short, hard-boiled cut ends the album with a stream of consciousness feel.
There seems to have been a resurgence of acoustic players and bands in recent years, and maybe that’s due to the desire to make things more real again musically. No matter the reason, I’m glad that Izzy & Chris have decided to make music together because they have produced a fine CD with Preachin’ The Blues - Vol. 1. I do wish that the duo would have included song credits in the liner notes, as people who have heard and enjoyed this CD could have been lead back to other artists whose music might also be enjoyed. But, that’s a minor quibble because Izzy & Chris have a winner on their hands with this CD. East Side Slim is assigning an STLBluesometer rating of 4.00 to Preachin’ the Blues – Vol. 1. Nice work, fellas!