No matter how comfortable I get with my adult life, there will always be a part of me that longs for the days I used go out carousing. I miss sitting in the near dark drinking Carling Black Label and bumming cigarettes from my buddies while we tried to make eyes at bar girls too smart to give us the time of day. If I tried to do that sort of thing today I’d look like a fool. It’s a good thing there are bands like the Izzys, whose inspired take on the rough, honky-tonk music that gave rise to the best of American rock ‘n’ roll brings the dingiest bar I could ever want into my own home. The Violent Bear It Away is a boozy collection of songs that takes a reverence for Hank Williams and crosses it with the bluesy influences of the late-’60s Rolling Stones. The Violent Bear It Away sizzles from raucous start to quiet finish.
The Izzys announce their presence with a super-fuzzed guitar riff on “The Madman Sleeps” and proceed to ramble through three minutes of heavy rhythm and expert licks. Mike Storey finishes the piece by twisting his vocals from the traditional blues shout to a rock ‘n’ roll wail reminiscent of Exile on Main Street-era Jagger. “Drinking Who Hit John,” “I’m a Rounder,” and “Dead Man” go on to explore similar territory, underscoring the Izzys’ vibrant take on rock and blues with honky-tonk piano, acoustic guitar, and Storey’s consistently inventive lyrics. The first songs blend seamlessly into one another and showcase the many aspects of the band’s chops.
If the second half of the album merely continued on this path, The Violent Bear It Away would be an extremely satisfying, if not excellent, album. But the next two tracks are incandescent. “Slow Drag” ambles along on intertwining guitar lines and Storey’s lyrics. Starting out wishing that he and his lover “could try just one more time,” Storey eventually comes to the conclusion that “all the times we’ve had, good and bad . . . it’s a slow drag.”
“Slow Drag” would easily be the best song on the album if not for “Call My Name.” The song replaces the resignation of “Slow Drag” with a pure rock ‘n’ roll swagger. It starts with another catchy guitar riff, but this time Storey’s lyrics show a more proactive viewpoint — the song sizzles with attitude. When Storey sings, “If you’re gonna hit me, hit me till you drop me,” he verifies the connection to Hank Williams, Steve Earle, and any guy who has worn an old Levis jacket to a bar.
The album concludes with a cover of the traditional “Cocaine Blues,” “The Violent Bear It Away,” and “Gone (Like Fighting Fire),” two down-tempo tunes. Though none of these reach the heights found earlier on the album, they serve as a fitting last call — a serene end to a rambunctious evening of fun.