With music rooted in country, bluegrass and gospel, the three women in Angel Band spread their vocal wings and soar on With Roots & Wings, their first CD for Appleseed after a self-released recording.
Their flight is breathtaking – founder/leader Nancy Josephson, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber all possess winsomely individual lead and harmony voices that combine in “boisterous, sad, sweet, goofy, glorious and angelic noise,” as they describe it. Their love of the sound three female voices make together is at the center of the group. The chord rules the day; both elemental and mystical, when all three voices hit “it,” the hair on the back of your neck will rise. The trio’s superb backing quartet (“Chum”), which includes Nancy’s husband, Grammy-nominated virtuoso roots guitarist/multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg, provides equally uplifting accompaniment on a dozen alternately lively and moving original songs (by Josephson and Chum fiddler/guitarist Bobby Tangrea, separately and in collaboration) and a lovely version of Chip Taylor’s country-pop ballad “Angel of the Morning,” previously a hit for both Merilee Rush and Juice Newton. The rich mixture of voices, guitars, fiddle, mandolin, and other instruments is accompanied and produced by legendary Texas pedal steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, who’s previously supervised Dixie Chicks, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Jerry Jeff Walker recordings, among many others; he’s also the father of the Chicks’ Natalie Maines.
The two-year-old Angel Band, formed out of a series of weekly jam sessions in the Brombergs’ adopted hometown of Wilmington, Del., has been performing mostly as the opening act and backing vocalists for Bromberg in the last few years as he’s emerged from a 20-year performing and touring hiatus. Their singing and high-spirited, sassy, brassy onstage presentation have delighted audiences at Merlefest, Bonnaroo, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and many other venues, and they astounded Linda Ronstadt when they sang with her on several occasions.
On With Roots & Wings, after a close-harmony Haitian Vodou (voodoo) incantation to open the door between the earthly and spirit worlds (“Hey Papa Legba”), the Angels stake their claim in Americana territory with the spirited, fiddle-led Cajun two-step “I’ll Sing This Song for You,” Josephson’s first-ever composition, which lists the sacrifices she’d make for her man (“I’d even sell my shoes for you”). Equally boisterous are “I’m Coming Home to You” (“I’m putting on my lipstick in the rearview mirror/Truck drivers honkin’ ’cause I’m taking up two lanes”) and the album’s propulsive closer, “Jump Back in the Ditch,” an infectious chant with Texas singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix guesting on handclaps.
“We Are Shepherds” is a protective hymn with lyrics by Josephson in response to President Bush’s troop “surge” – “I wanted to write a piece that wasn’t a strident kicking and screaming administration bash, but a deeper, more elemental gut-deep cry of commitment about what my ultimate job as a mother is,” she says. Other standouts: “Place of Grace,” sung by Schonwald, about a couple staying together for the sake of their children; “Drown in the Fountain of Good,” a slow gospel blues eerily ornamented with a plaintive chorus of “Let it rain,” Bromberg’s mournful National steel guitar, and Maines’ distorted pedal steel; “Moon Over Montgomery,” a sad portrait of the working class, with echoes of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”; and “Cold Lonesome Down in Blackbird Creek,” a very blue bluegrass lament sung by Weber.
With the release of With Roots & Wings, Angel Band will play an increasing number of concerts on their own, with David as one of their sidemen, as well as providing him with a hard act to follow when they’re booked together. You must see Angel Band perform live – as splendidly varied and satisfying as this CD is, the on-stage humor, energy and visual appeal of these rowdy modern cowgirls is a divine bonus.
Angel Band: Beyond Folk Jams......Hear an Interview and In-Studio Performance