Only a place like Montana could have fostered the splintered artistic visions of someone as wonderfully askew as Izaak Opatz. With his time split between Big Sky wilderness and the bohemian oasis of Missoula, Izaak’s muses are varied. Complex. Sojourns to the more bustling American music cities of Nashville and Los Angeles notwithstanding, Izaak’s songs can be attributed to no real regional wellspring—they are of the State of Izaak.
His music zeroes in on the spaces between his life in the wild as a literal trailblazer in Glacier National Park, and the perhaps messier realities of living and loving amongst the rest of the world. In The Best Westerns, his yesteryear ensemble, Izaak’s songs occupied raucous songwriting real estate, festooning lovesick tunes with clever neurotic verse and a predilection for dirtwave makeovers. To Izaak, “dirtwave” is succinctly defined as merely “folk music with catchier clothes.”
That wardrobe was handed down to his first solo album, Mariachi Static, released by Portland, OR’s Mama Bird Recording Co. in 2018. Fitted with razor sharp lyrical quirks, the album expanded upon his twisted pop-country leanings to include more instrumentation, more bittersweet songs to drink yourself to tears with, and more oddball lyrical sidebars. Singles like “Not Yet” and “Got To Me Since” fine-tuned Izaak’s open-book vibe of folky storytelling.
With someone so naturally in two worlds at once, it should be unsurprising that Izaak decided to make a pop-country covers album in a year like 2020.
On Hot & Heavy-Handed, Izaak taps the juice from pop-country hits of yesteryear, gussying them with less gaudy accoutrement while never disrespecting the originals. Covers of Marc Chesnutt’s “Goin’ Through the Big D” and Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk On a Plane“ highlight a deep-seated affinity for big hooks and sleeve-worn hearts, and the project is as much tribute to the cornerstones of his own musical upbringing as it is an opportunity to drag influences through his own prism. Peppered within are two of Opatz’s originals in the heartbreaker ballad “Lubbock for Love” and the on-the-nose bookend of “You Made a Country Singer Out Of Me,” a song essentially acknowledging the preceding tracks as somewhat autobiographical fodder for the skewed perspectives on life and love that Opatz embodies today.
Stripped-down of their high-falootin’ production, the songs chosen for Hot & Heavy-Handed come down to earth, where people like Izaak live, and where the stories within the songs can be given a more realistic shake. Broken down and built back up, Izaak and his band (featuring multi-instrumentalist Dylan Rodrigue and drummer/engineer Malachi DeLorenzo) perform the magic trick of unmasking the humanity and turmoil, the humor and the pain in songs that’ve been dancing around FM stations for years unencumbered by their innate pomp.
As Izaak himself postulates on “You Made a Country Singer Out of Me,” “Country singers are just bitchers and moaners/The trick is making the pain sound sweet.” Sweetness is the ultimate reward in Izaak’s songs, wherever they come from. The State of Izaak is a strong, slightly depressive, hilarious and teeming land of songwriting radiance you should probably visit immediately, if not sooner.