It’s been a few years since Mize and the Drive’s last project, but the Murfreesboro-based outfit is back with Robin, the follow-up EP to 2011’s full-length Irene. Back in 2012, the Pulse praised the band for its musical diversity, and with Robin Mize once again proves that honing in on several influences (the band counts Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper, Grateful Dead, Radiohead and Umphrey’s McGee among its many mentors) and switching things up a bit to make their own jam-rock style is what creates their niche.
With seven musicians—Lee Ramsey, Ben Wencil, Cody Malak, Dan Jarnagin, Alex Stevenson, Nathan Deese and Tom Seymour—Mize and the Drive incorporates heavy guitars for the loud jazz-rock numbers, like on the opener “Flamingo,” but they just as easily bring things back down to earth with the breezy, acoustic finger-picking heard on “Dead Horse.” That’s not to say the sharp stylistic changes aren’t jarring at times, especially on the first two tracks, but it doesn’t hinder the release much.
At times, the EP emits a strong classic-rock sound (“Bend Don’t Break”) while some songs take on a very different approach by letting the saxophone take center stage (“Friend”). The album’s third track, “Letdown,” serves as a happy medium between the two.
As someone who has seen Mize and the Drive live, I’d say the energy these guys put into their performances carries over well on the recording. Although they’re the kind of band that really shines on stage, they were able to channel most of that energy in the studio. Mize and the Drive’s members have been making music for a several years, both together and separately, and Robin is evidence that the band has grown musically and lyrically since Irene.
Robin is available on iTunes and Spotify. Check the band’s Facebook page for upcoming shows in the Middle Tennessee area.
-Dylan Skye Aycock
Officially, Mize and the Drive formed in late 2009. Unofficially, they’ve been forming for the past decade as the members became veteran musicians separately, through other projects.
A little over two years as a band has seen debut full-length, Irene (Dirty Cabin Records), to fruition. And whether the instrumentation incorporates heavy guitars and jazz influence or keeps with a bare folk style with acoustic guitar, Irene doesn’t really have any filler tracks to speak of. The influences are obvious, but the 10 tracks are all decisive and combine parts of folk, jazz, soul with the South—mainly in Lee Ramsey’s vocals and the twang-rock resonance of Cody Malak’s lead guitar.
As seasoned musicians, Mize and the Drive can clearly write about universal tribulations without youthful, desperate angst, which is a plus in the sense that Irene has plenty laid-back, Grateful Dead-esque good vibes and messages.
The record radiates with very classic rock (“Antietam Road”), lush Southern roots (“Soul Shot”) and artful, pretty strumming (“Strangers”). Les Greer’s bass and Ben Wencil’s rhythm guitar tap out “Dazed,” a rock-and-reeds jaunt that emulates Dave Matthews Band’s hippie jazz style.
Two of the best tracks are entirely different; there’s “Rain,” a melancholy waltz with Alex Stevenson’s gorgeous saxophone smeared into the middle of the record, whose melody is vaguely reminiscent of Counting Crows’ slower, sweeter stuff. Then there’s “Long Way Down,” a morbid haunt with pensive bass and the opening lines: “The rope is frayed/but I’m holding on/to my end, anyway/hanging from the cliff/my nails dug in/and my fingers burned/hanging from the cliff/waiting for you to pull me up.”
Such is the diversity of Mize and the Drive’s influences.