With Slow Burn, Ivan Denis Puts Tucson Firmly on the Americana Map

I was tripping into the zone this morning at work.  My tunes were on, nobody was in my way, and as is my daily routine, five days a week, for five hours every morning at the Co. : before the masses stampede through the doors in a constant steam that feels a lot like job security, I let my mind drift into whatever it is that I am working on.  A lot of work gets done on various writing projects while I do my daily work out.  Today, my day started with Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan’s Blues.


“Unlike most of the songs nowadays are being written uptown, Ten Pound Alley: that’s where most of the Folk songs come from nowadays.  But this, this is a song; it wasn’t written up there, it was written somewhere down in the United States!”

And it got me thinking, not only about this article that was starting to creep its way into words in those hours.  {Silver linings ladies and gentlemen.  We all work in our own little salt mines, but truly… it is a blessing to have five hours to sweat and think a day.  It really is.}  But, I digress, as I am at times prone to do, it got me thinking not only about Slow Burn, the new album from Ivan Denis, but about genre, and the beauty of not necessarily being able to define it.

Americana.  What is it?  It seems like it is everywhere these days, or at least being commonly referenced, but what exactly is it?  Google it.  I did.  It doesn’t help much.




Merriam-Webster defines Americana as “anything having to do with the culture and heritage of the United States.”  Gee.  Thanks.  The Americana Music Association themselves define the style as, “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”

Myself?  I think of it almost like a triangle.  Imagine at one point you have Bob Dylan.  On another, you have Tedeschi Trucks.  And finally, on another, you have Johnny Cash.  It is this field created using Folk, Traditional Country, and Blues/Rock as boundaries.  Anything in that field… is fair game.  Perhaps some would say the definition is flawed with the remittance of Jazz.  Perhaps.  There are obvious jazz elements.

Damn I love this song.  Ditto, Johnny, ditto.

It is a hard music to define.  It can be so many things, that it is almost difficult to put into words… but you know it when you hear it.  So when my friend Ivan Denis wrote me and asked if I would be the first to review Slow Burn, I jumped at the chance.  It was like being the first to hear a new James Taylor song…. if one could imagine James Taylor being able to convincingly cover anything from Garth Brooks to Cyndi Lauper (true story).

I wrote my first album review in July, with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers’ release of Native Heart.  This is my second.  As a rule, I don’t do album reviews, I have conversations with artists about topics that interest me.  So, it isn’t so much that I only review albums for my friends, as much as it is a mark of confidence on their part and humility on mine.  And as unconventional as it may seem, music is the soundtrack to each of our lives… music makes sense of the senseless, makes  dreams of wishes, and lightens times of darkness.  It defines moments, creates memories, and cements them into our hearts – instantly brought to the forefront of thought just by hearing a tune.  So it is impossible for me to divorce myself, my own spin, my own narrative, from the music and the musicians on which and whom I write.  It is almost like it is too personal to separate.  Perhaps this is how it should be.


Slow Burn opens with Gasoline, which starts with a jingly jangly guitar that brings immediate visions of guitar work akin to Chris Isaak, Johnny Marr, or Mark Knopfler.  In fact, all of the guitar work on this record is just phenomenal.  Crisp, clean, and technically superb, it is the perfect complement to Ivan’s voice, which deserves mention completely on its own.

Earlier I mentioned Garth Brooks and Cyndi Lauper.  Ivan Denis has unbelievable range.  I have heard him sing covers of both artists, and it is quite amazing to behold.  Seriously, the dude could give Axl Rose a run for his money.  Ivan is equally able to deliver this quiet, pure, almost whispered… but not, soft melody that can just as easily snarl into a growling bluesy soul rending as it might soar to the highest of places with this wonderful free clarity that never seems to strain in its delivery.

Gasoline is a song about love that just never seems to go right.  Fire and gasoline.  Oil and water.  Sung in almost a beach breezy way, Ivan’s voice rolling easily on the rhythm of waves and currents as he sings a girl from his dreams into his world.  “Even though he knows there is no way he has a right to walk with an angel, and he knows he is bound to fall,  she wasn’t only in his dreams.  But he fell hard, and was a match to her gasoline, but they blew up so damn perfectly.”  I paraphrase here to make it kinda flow, but Ivan Denis can write a song.  The imagery he creates is stunning, and the variety of mental movies is endless.






The second track on the record is actually the first single.  In the words of the man himself,

“Well, I’ve run out of reasons to wait. So…track 2 from the new album Slow Burn is a song called Lick the Spoon. I was told to get thing going with a swagger and so we shall. Lick the Spoon is available for purchase at Ivandenis.com, and will find its way to all your major stores within the week. Please, baby, please like and share this with your friends if you like it at all. If you hate it, cool…share it with your enemies. Download the full song for a dollar. Do it.”


Like it?  You should… it’s fun, it’s playful, it’s romantic.  One can imagine candle light, wine, perhaps ice cream, and 9 & 1/2 weeks style tasting games.  I’m telling you, the man is a mental film maker!

Slow Burn delivers its James Taylor moment with its somber reflection on the paralysis that comes with heart break, The Loneliest Room.  The musicians on this album: Levi Granek, bass, and Michael P. Nordberg, guitars and drums, are markedly good, but it is with this song that Ivan allows his vocal range to be the standout instrument.  Going from high held notes to deep bass tones, he characterizes his character, a man lying on a bed in the complete lack of motivation that is the pain of loss.


Think About You, the fourth song on the record, is a bluesy journey on a dark road, headlights following a double yellow line, and the guitar’s mellow and distinctive voice pinpointing the loneliness one feels on that road.  Driving.  Thinking.  Remembering.  One’s mind lingers on “that short dress, and that short breath, and that summer sweat”, and one’s hands on the person one can’t stop thinking of.  Just as the music starts to lull those memories to tears, and one fights to want to be able to forget, two sharp hits on the drums stop the melody.  At first, I wondered for a brief moment, if the song was over, if it was a simple, beautiful, guitar laced lullaby to a lost love, but with two more sharp smacks of the snare, the song rips into a rock bridge that immediately demands attention.  My mind was immediately pulled right back onto that dark road, and the music became the frantic scrambling of a lover who can’t stop thinking of his/her love, even though they want to more than anything.

“Brand new horizon, and a flash of lightning, and I’m coming home”, and as the song finishes, briefly slowing itself back to its original tempo, I am left wondering if the driver was able to fight through those memories to a new day and a new hope, or if the drive was a drive to clear his head, and he is ready to return to the one he can’t stop thinking of.  It is the beauty of poetry, to create something that can spark a vision so specific, but still leave that vision open to interpretation.  The song is a triumph, and very well be my favorite song on the record.


With the final, title track, Slow Burn, Ivan brings his brand of Americana closer to the country and western corner of the field.  His clarion call of a voice graces through the melody of a couple who are finally able to believe in love one last time again.  As a listener, the song completes this journey of love from its first disastrous flames, through its playful passionate moments, spiraling through the pain of its loss and the questioning of its truth, before finally finding the courage to trust it again.

Slow Burn is a five song album, so by definition it is more of on EP, but with the level of craftsmanship, and care taken in the recording process it feels more like a really well done, if short, album.  Think of how a great episode of Game of Thrones feels like a movie, just shorter.  It’s comparable.  Slow Burn was recorded at Linda Ronstadt’s family studio in Tucson.  One of the primary reasons that Ivan chose the studio, was their willingness to trust his voice and NOT use any degree of auto-tune.  Ivan wanted any imperfections to be there…. that is part of it.  And truly, it would be unnecessary.


Do yourself a favor.  Get yourself over to IvanDenis.com, and support local music.  There is so much great music in Arizona right now… all you have to do is look for it.  Get out!  Independent art is where the true creativity is happening folks.

Earlier this summer I was able to get down south to Tucson to see Ivan and spend an evening talking and reminiscing.  Check out that article here.


Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends.

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