june 2008

Angel Band
Appleseed Recordings

As impressive as was their 2006 debut, Beautiful Noise, Angel Band’s sophomore effort, With Roots & Wings, is doubly so. Some changes are evident and telling: original band member Adrien Reju has been replaced by Kathleen Weber, and Lloyd Maines is behind the board as producer. David Bromberg remains as the band leader and arranger, and his sure sense of roots and rhythm maps perfectly with Maines’s unerring feel for each number’s appropriate sonic texture. In the voices of Weber, Nancy Josephson and Jen Schonwald, and in Josephson’s humanist songwriting, Bromberg and Maines have all the substance they need to craft a compelling soundscape. One of many moments when everyone is at the top of their games comes on the eerie spiritual cry, “Drown In The Fountain of Good.” Josephson’s vision of her earthly trials and temptations leading to the ultimate triumph of “the gloryland splendor” is initially driven solely by Bromberg’s stark, parched National Steel picking; as the song unfolds, and the narrative expands to reveal the full weight of the singer’s burden and hopes, the National Steel is joined by an insistently humming accordion, an incessantly trilling mandolin solo, a persistent fiddle moan and, finally, thundering, cannon-shot drums, as the voices cry out in unison, “Let it rain! Let it rain!” From this turbulence a cleansing rain does indeed follow in the form of Josephson’s beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, Appalachian-styled ballad, “Cold Lonesome Down in Blackbird Creek,” and more so in the sprightly traditional country bounce of a prayer for divine guidance, “Hold Me Angel,” in which Schonwald’s forthright plea and the silky, close harmonized verses are supported by some energetic picking courtesy mandolin, guitar, fiddle, with Maines himself interjecting evocative pedal steel lines into the frolicsome arrangement. Such rich tapestries are commonplace here, as Josephson’s lyrics traverse the intersect between the temporal and spiritual worlds, and embrace the dichotomy, to the point where, in the loping country strains of “Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep” (partly drawn from the Public Domain), she speaks as the departed spirit of one who lives on in nature (“I am a thousand winds that blow/I am the diamond glistening snow…”), as ever present in the elements as she was in physical body. For good measure, the trio signs off with a real house wrecker of a gospel number, Josephson’s “Jump Back In the Ditch,” a hand clapping, call-and-response, high intensity, righteous workout aided in stirring fashion by Bromberg’s raucous, searing slide work on the National Steel, the note-perfect complement to the gals’ insistent hollers for redemption. One thinks He gets the message.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024