Monday, August 30, 2010

Angel Band - Bless My Sole

Angel Band coalesced only seven years ago. And sure enough, there’s a delightful back story that explains how they got here:

Introducing Angel Band’s founder, lyricist, singer, Nancy Josephson. . .

Born in New York City, “I don’t ever remember not singing,” says Nancy, and was “thumping” on an acoustic guitar at six. With musical influences ranging from The Monkees and The Supremes to bluegrass and country, she sang her way through school, forming garage bands and girl groups “with anyone who was cool.” She learned to play stand-up bass and helped form the all-girl bluegrass group, the Buffalo Gals, in upstate New York, staying with them from 1972 to 1976. Her next stop was California, to live with the increasingly legendary multi-instrumentalist, solo artist and session man David Bromberg, whom she’d met in 1970. For the next several years, she performed with a number of well-known bluegrass and “new grass” performers, including Arlo Guthrie, Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce, Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick (of the Good Ol’ Persons), and The David Bromberg Big Band. “I had a knack of getting fired from every incarnation of David’s band due to my unique inability to take direction from my partner, who was also my boss,” she confesses. She also sang back-up with Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, and Phoebe Snow, among others.

Meanwhile, Bromberg was burning out from the tour-record-tour cycle of his solo career in the ’70s. In 1980, David and Nancy moved to Chicago, where he studied violin making while Nancy sang commercial jingles, joined The Annettes as the only Caucasian in a 30-voice women’s choir, raised two young children and switched to visual arts as her main creative outlet.

Nancy’s self-taught art projects – particularly her elaborately embellished “art cars” – earned her a strong reputation in the world of “outsider art”; her decorated school bus, “The Gallery A Go Go” has become part of the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum, and her sculpture work has been displayed in venues from the Smithsonian Institute to the Halle St. Pierre in Paris. About 15 years ago, Nancy started visiting Haiti to meet artists there who were working in media that interested her – sequins and beads. This interaction led to her writing a book – “Spirits and Sequins: Vodou Flags of Haiti” (Schiffer) – being initiated into the Vodou (voodoo) religion and jumpstarted Nancy’s songwriting career: “I figured that after the book, a 3+ minute song wouldn’t be that hard.” (Nancy and Angel Band have raised thousands of dollars for Haitian relief efforts so far this year.)

When the city of Wilmington, Delaware beckoned David and Nancy to become artists in residence, Nancy initially refrained from joining the bluegrass sessions David organized there, working on her visual arts, until Bromberg started raving about a mother and sister vocal duo that might accommodate a third voice. “Mainly to get David off [her] back,” Nancy attended the next jam and was hooked by the resultant three-part harmonies. Thus began Angel Band.

After the other 2/3 of the trio moved to Texas a few years later, Nancy pressed David (guitar) and Bob Taylor (bass) into back-up duties and started recruiting her own co-vocalists. After various shifts in personnel over their first two CDs (including 2008’s With Roots & Wings on Appleseed), the vocal frontline on Bless My Sole consists of Nancy, Kathleen Weber, a four-year veteran of the band “whose deep, bluesy voice seems almost out of place in her small frame,” says Nancy, and newest member Aly Paige, whose opera training has been subverted by “her improvisational abilities, which makes every night an unexpected joy ride vocally.”

Additional musical highlights are sparked by multi-instrumentalist Marc Moss, David Bromberg (guitars), David Bromberg Quartet band member and solo artist Nate Grower (fiddle), and co-producer Lloyd Maines (guitars, banjo). Bless My Sole is a delicious, rootsy, bluesy stew delivered with a dash of hot sauce, along with other essential acoustic ingredients to what some call “Americana” … we call it “Angel Band music.” To leave the last words to Nancy: “Our songs speak to who we are as a band: strong, grateful and full of power.” And angels never lie.

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