Alex Blizzy is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter who’s just released his debut album A Step Behind, which is said to incorporate “timeless sounds steeped in Heartland Rock & Alt-Country, resulting in a style that never feels contrived.” Born in Buffalo, New York, Blizzy was raised in the Metro-DC region. He’s been able to look back at this contrast between “rust belt and beltway, finding a way to extract the universal themes from the entanglement of our rapidly-changing & complex modern society.”
Besides Blizzy on lead and background vocals, guitars and synth pads, A Step Behind features a team of collaborators including Aaron Liao (bass), Caleb Gilbreath (drums/percussion), Andy Ellis Valdini (Hammond B3) and Kate Atanian (backing vocals). Blizzy produced himself at J10 Studios in Nashville, with mixing by Eric Weinberg at Little Erich Music Studio in Burke, Virginia and mastering by Bill Wolf at Wolf Productions in Alexandria, VA.
“A Step Behind” immediately channels the Heartland Rock of artists like John Mellencamp, with its prominent strummed acoustic guitar backed by slashing electric, in-the-pocket bass, expansive keys and trap-like drums. Blizzy reveals himself to be a songwriter in the classic pop-country idiom, a great singer and an excellent multi-instrumentalist (for example, this track features squeaky, squonky lead guitar accompaniment throughout). When playing this song live, Blizzy really lays on the wall-of-guitar sound (with three guitarists, no less) that’s just hinted at here.
“Drinking Town” moves into electric folk, with the vocal tonality and sincerity of Freedy Johnston. I love the ironic chorus of “Life ain’t too bad in a drinking town” when the verses paint a very different picture of promising lives eventually dragged down by the bottle. The harmony vocals are especially prominent and polished here.
Even after these excellent opening tracks, “These Footsteps” takes Blizzy’s songwriting and performance to a new level. No surprise that this song was a finalist in the 2022 UK Songwriting Contest’s Adult Contemporary category. The song also very much benefits from the guest piano of Rachel Leia, which adds a classical sophistication to Blizzy’s writing. Thematically the song appears to deal with being stuck in one place seemingly forever, inadvertently retracing of the life choices of others that came before.
After the relative heaviness of the previous track, “Comin’ for You” is a welcome high energy rave up with lots of fast singing and killer guitar solo breaks. Very prominent organ here as well (maybe a bit much?). This is the kind of song that would wring out the last bits of energy in a hayloft audience before the doors close for the night. “Even the Strongest Girls” boasts a sheen of pop song craft that reaches way back to Elton John or Neil Diamond, though maybe as a B side for those gentlemen.
“Love on Paper” features guest Evan Phillips on electric guitar and Blizzy himself subbing on bass. This is an especially thoughtful medium tempo ballad that appears to graph out a marriage from start to finish, beginning (and eventually ending?) with the couples’ signatures on paper. “You can’t have love on paper / And you can’t put your heart in box / Better off waiting forever / Than trying to beat the clock.”
“Culture King” is a driving minor key rocker for which Blizzy provides a live video on his website, and it’s an excellent choice at that. It’s a great example of Blizzy’s unique ability to create propulsive, enveloping backings over which he shines with lead and harmony vocal arrangements. There’s a bit of The Eagles or Allmans here, and though I don’t care for The Eagles, maybe you get the idea!
“Never Felt Better” ends the set with guest Hamilton Belk on dobro. Blizzy takes the opportunity to slow down just a bit, going mostly acoustic, while his vocals are as rich and layered as usual. Belk’s dobro adds an eerie, country flavor that fits perfectly.
Overall this is an amazing debut album that doesn’t remotely feel like a debut. Check it out!