Izzi Dunn – Cries & Smiles | Album Review

Six long years since her much-lauded debut, The Big Picture Izzi Dunn returns with an accomplished follow-up Cries & Smiles. The title derives from some of the highs and lows experienced by Izzi during the making of the album, which is also reflected in its varied subject matter.

Dunn has been described as a self-sufficient artist; an entirely correct appraisal. She has written or co-written every song on Cries & Smiles, taking the lion share of production credits too. Needless to say, with the cello being Izzi’s main instrument, the string arrangements on her sophomore project are absolutely delectable. There’s even a strings-led instrumental ‘G@ngster Bitch’ in the mix. Dunn is also quite the wordsmith, citing intelligent Hip-Hop as her main inspiration.

Izzi hasn’t followed the predictable soul/R&B route of singing about romance ad nauseum. In fact the only bona fide love song, the mid-tempo ‘Nothing but Love’, has its tongue firmly in its cheek, satirising all those lofty, unrealistic claims balladeers make in the throes of infatuation.

On ‘Analogue Girl’ Dunn refers to herself as a ‘retrosexual’, the song itself documenting her lack of enthusiasm for the digital age and longing for a simple, more traditional existence. The title track borrows percussion and a teensy bit of the bassline from Mos Def’s ‘Umi Says’ as Izzi ponders the vicissitudes of life.

Even the album’s weakest number ‘Kill Me Slow’ is a fine demonstration of Dunn’s poetically astute lyrics. This same lyrical acuity converges with her ear for a strong melody and lush string arrangements to excellent effect on personal favourite ‘Loser’ (featuring The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown), a tune about misplaced priorities in contemporary society.

Other stand-out tracks include the subtly political ‘Oblivious’, ‘All Good Things’-an ode to patience –and of course, the slightly controversial album opener ‘Tits and Ass’.

True to Dunn’s old-school inclination Cries & Smiles is a fairly brief affair; it could all quite neatly fit onto the ten-track LPs of yesteryear. The feel of the album also harks back to a golden era of British soul/R&B in the 1990s, before trigger-happy record companies started dropping quality acts from their rosters left, right and centre.

Lastly, this review would not be complete without mentioning the gorgeous simplicity of Izzi’s voice. She is so easy on the ears yet totally avoids the middle-of-the-road.

Welcome back Ms Dunn.

–Tola Ositelu

Cries & Smiles is out now: iTunes / Amazon