From the Santa Monica Pier to Levon’s Midnight Ramble and with two solid years of touring under their belt (since their 2008 release of With Roots & Wings), Angel Band has expanded their following ten-fold. No audience has been left unmoved by Angel Band’s all out, “take no prisoners” stage demeanor, signature rootsy, bluesy Americana songs, super back-up band and the “dig in” vocals of leader and lyricist Nancy Josephson, Kathleen Weber, and Aly Paige. Performing as opening act and backing singers for Josephson’s husband, world-class roots musician David Bromberg at Bonnaroo, Merlefest, the Philadelphia Folk Festival and other high profile events, Angel Band has been stepping out and playing many a prestigious concert venue on their own. This band is winning over many new listeners in their travels (voted one of the top 10 Favorite Bands at Bonnaroo), breaking out road-tested crowd-pleasers and singing a big new batch of original material.
Produced by Nancy and Angel Band backing member Marc Moss, their newest release, Bless My Sole, is co-produced by legendary musician/producer Lloyd Maines (Dixie Chicks, Jimmie Dale Gilmore). The trio’s vocals on Bless My Sole soar through the primarily acoustic accompaniment by Moss (mandolin, guitars, accordion), backing band mainstay Bob Taylor (bass) and stellar guest; David Bromberg (guitars), Nate Grower (fiddle), Bukka Allen (accordion) and Lloyd Maines (pedal steel, guitar and banjo).
Josephson’s creative and, at times, startling lyrics, set to music by Moss, are a powerful, soulful mixture of the secular and spiritual. The rousing CD opener, “Hope is on the Way,” was inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential run, taking on additional meaning after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where Nancy has strong artistic and personal ties. (“Hope is on the Way” was filmed with Angel Band and Haitian rap group Trezo and can be found on YouTube and http://www.appleseedmusic.com/news/news.php).
The deceptively up-beat tempo “Didn’t See It Coming (When the Levee Broke”), led by Nancy, unfolds a small story about a boy, a radio playing a Loretta Lynn tune, and the odd moments that can change a life. The rootsy blues of “Same Boat” recounts the American immigration experience; we all want “the same things at the end of the day” and we are all “in the same boat now.” Angel Band’s boot stomping attitude triggered “Long Gone Got Away Lucky,” a dramatic portrait of everyone’s favorite cowgirl hero, Annie Oakley.
Bless My Sole finally captures two of Angel Band’s in-concert audience favorites: the heartfelt, yearning “Boots of Guadalupe,” an account of Nancy’s – and many women’s – true love and devotion to footwear (particularly cowboy boots), and a jawdropping voluptuous rendition of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” led by Kathleen. There’s also the raucous “(I Feel) Lucky,” fronted by Aly, a fiddle-infused celebration of gambling’s giddy, irresistible appeal. More somber notes are rung on the delicate “Fly Away Home,” a song of mourning, and “Black Tar Sway,” a Tom Waits-influenced account of the seduction of drug addiction. “Deeds We Have Done” was written as a rebuttal to John Milton’s 17th Century epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” confirming “the choice is ours, Amen.”
As one fan recently remarked after an Angel Band concert “wow…all those great songs and not a bad one in the bunch.” True. Anyone who likes the “sigh-to-a-shout” vocal chops, lyrical grit and real deal instrumental abilities of the Dixie Chicks and Lucinda Williams (along with the soulful heart of Bonnie Raitt) will definitely be satisfied keeping Angel Band a favorite on their play list.