About "With Roots & Wings":
â€œI love Angel Bandâ€™s harmonies, wonderfully strong voices, and beautiful songs!â€ â€“ Linda Ronstadt
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 two self-released recordings.
Their flight is breathtaking â€“ founder/leader Nancy Josephson, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber all possess wonderfully individual lead and harmony voices that combine in â€œboisterous, sad, sweet, goofy, glorious and angelic noise,â€ 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 â€œit,â€ the hair on the back of your neck will rise. The trioâ€™s superb backing quartet (â€œChumâ€), which includes Nancyâ€™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 Taylorâ€™s country-pop ballad â€œAngel of the Morning,â€ previously a hit for both Merilee Rush and Juice Newton. The rich mixture of voices, guitars, fiddle, mandolin, and other instruments was supplemented and produced by legendary Texas pedal steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, whoâ€™s previously supervised Dixie Chicks, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Jerry Jeff Walker recordings, among many others; heâ€™s also the father of the Chicksâ€™ Natalie Maines.
The two-year-old Angel Band, formed out of a series of weekly jam sessions in the Brombergsâ€™ adopted hometown of Wilmington, Del., has been performing mostly as the opening act and backing vocalists for Bromberg in the last few years as heâ€™s emerged from a 20-year performing and touring hiatus. Their singing and high-spirited, sassy, brassy onstage presentation have delighted audiences at Merlefest, Bonaroo, 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 (â€œHey Papa Legbaâ€), the Angels stake their claim in Americana territory with the spirited, fiddle-led Cajun two-step â€œIâ€™ll Sing This Song for You,â€ Josephsonâ€™s first-ever composition, which lists the sacrifices sheâ€™d make for her man (â€œIâ€™d even sell my shoes for youâ€). Equally boisterous are â€œIâ€™m Coming Home to Youâ€ (â€œIâ€™m putting on my lipstick in the rearview mirror/Truck drivers honkinâ€™ â€™cause Iâ€™m taking up two lanesâ€) and the albumâ€™s propulsive closer, â€œJump Back in the Ditch,â€ an infectious chant with Texas singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix guesting on handclaps.
â€œWe Are Shepherdsâ€ is a protective hymn with lyrics by Josephson in response to President Bushâ€™s troop â€œsurgeâ€ â€“ â€œI wanted to write a piece that wasnâ€™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,â€ she says. Other standouts: â€œPlace of Grace,â€ sung by Schonwald, about a couple staying together for the sake of their children; â€œDrown in the Fountain of Good,â€ a slow gospel blues eerily ornamented with a plaintive chorus of â€œLet it rain,â€ Brombergâ€™s mournful National steel guitar, and Mainesâ€™ distorted pedal steel; â€œMoon Over Montgomery,â€ a sad portrait of the working class, with echoes of John Prineâ€™s â€œAngel from Montgomeryâ€; and â€œCold Lonesome Down in Blackbird Creek,â€ a very blue bluegrass lament sung by Weber.
With the Spring 2008 release of "With Roots & Wings," Angel Band will continue to tour as Davidâ€™s show openers, but will also play an increasing number of concerts on their own, with David serving as a Chum member as often as his own schedule permits. You must see Angel Band perform live â€“ 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.
About Angel Band:
Itâ€™s less startling to discover that Angel Band founder and leader Nancy Josephson is a student, practitioner, and chronicler of Haitian Vodou (voodoo) if you consider that sheâ€™s been involved in two resurrections and a creation in the past few years.
The creation was Angel Band, which coalesced from a series of jam sessions led by Nancyâ€™s husband, the renowned roots musician and vocalist David Bromberg, after the couple had been lured to Wilmington, Del., in 2002 to serve as the townâ€™s â€œartists-in-residence.â€ Bromberg had virtually retired from recording and toured only occasionally in the preceding 20+ years, burned out by the tour-record-tour cycle of his solo career in the â€™70s; he spent the â€™80s and â€™90s in Chicago learning how to make violins. When David and Nancy moved to Wilmington, he initiated regular weekly blues and bluegrass jam session nights at the 4W5 Club as a low-key return to making music. While David picked at the club with local musicians, Nancy stayed home to work on her mixed media sculptures until David persuaded her to drop in at on bluegrass night. A family of musicians she met and sang with that night became her first line-up of Angel Band.
Josephson was no musical rookie. Born in New York City, â€œI donâ€™t ever remember not singing,â€ she says, and was â€œthumpingâ€ 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 â€œwith anyone who was cool.â€ She eventually 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 Bromberg, whom sheâ€™d met in 1970. For the next several years, she performed with a number of well-known bluegrass and â€œnew grassâ€ performers, including Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce, Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick (of the Good Olâ€™ Persons), and even The David Bromberg Big Band. â€œI had a knack of getting fired from every incarnation of Davidâ€™s band due to my unique inability to take direction from my partner, who was also my boss,â€ she confesses.
After David and Nancy moved to Chicago in 1980, David studied violin making while Nancy started singing commercial jingles and, with some of her fellow jingle-singers, formed The Annettes, with Nancy the sole white, Jewish female in the otherwise African-American womenâ€™s choir. After a couple of years, during which Nancy also toured with Arlo Guthrie, the choir disbanded and Nancy switched her attention to visual arts and to raising two young children.
Hereâ€™s where those resurrections started happening. The Brombergs moved to Wilmington, David opened a violin retail and repair shop, and both â€œretiredâ€ musicians started to play music again. Nancy and early Angel Band configurations recorded two self-released CDs of country/bluegrass-flavored songs written by others, with Chum (Bromberg on guitars, Bobby Tangrea on mandolin and guitar, Bob Taylor on bass, and Jeff Wisor as fiddle; Nate Grower currently tours as the groupâ€™s fiddler) settling in as their backing band on 2004â€™s Beautiful Noise. David casually started cutting solo acoustic blues tracks at the local Grand Opera House venue and studio. Those recordings, produced by Nancy, became "Try Me One More Time" (Appleseed), a hugely praised Grammy finalist for â€œBest Traditional Folk Recording of 2007.â€ (Nancy had previously co-produced "Beautiful Noise" with Chum soundman and honorary member Marc Moss; Nancy co-produced three tracks on "With Roots & Wings" with Lloyd Maines, and Moss served as engineer.) So the violin maker and the sculptress returned to their lives in music.
With Davidâ€™s appetite for touring rewhetted, the current Angel Band line-up, together for the last year and a half, became his opening act and backing singers, with a great new CD and an expanding schedule of upcoming shows on their own:
Thereâ€™s our Vodou princess, Nancy, who sings high harmonies and lead vocals. She not only authored a recent book, Spirits in Sequins: Vodou Flags of Haiti (Schiffer, 2007) but has blossomed as a songwriter, with full or shared writing credits on ten of the songs on "With Roots & Wings." As she modestly told Sing Out! magazine last summer, â€œWay stupider people than me have written really good songs, so I figured, â€˜Why not?â€™â€
Jen Schonwald, who sings low harmonies as well as lead vocals, was raised in a musical family in which her parents and step-father sang traditional folk songs, and sheâ€™s been performing since the age of 12. Jen spent six years in the Philadelphia-based Full Frontal Folk group as vocalist and guitarist and also sang on recordings by singer-guitarist Pat Wictor. She co-wrote the spunky â€œPatron Saint of Opportunityâ€ with Nancy on the new Angel Band CD.
The newest and youngest Angel is Kathleen Weber (middle harmonies, lead vocals), who has performed for more than 20 years in numerous choirs and bands, including the Moravian Womenâ€™s Choir and, most recently, as a member of the reggae/rock Los Manatees in Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Lehigh Valley.