Angela Strehli – Ace of Blues
Antone’s/New West Records ANT-2513
12 songs – 39 minutes
Once a prime mover in the Austin music scene, where she reigned supreme as the Queen of Texas Blues, Angela Strehli is 77 years old and hasn’t released a solo album in 17 years but does so in style with this disc, and fans can rejoice because it might never have happened if her husband had not suggested that it had been far too long!
A native of Lubbock, Tex., who became addicted to the blues thanks to late-night shows she picked up on her shortwave radio, Angela has only released a handful of well-received albums in her career, but she’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes, joining forces with Clifford Antone to open the nightclub that became ground-zero for the blues in the Lone Star State, before launching the record label that’s served as the home for James Cotton, Eddie Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, Joe Ely and dozens of others.
A mentor to Stevie Ray Vaughan – with whom she preformed often, Strehli’s been located in Marin County, Calif., since the early ‘90s, where she and hubby Bob Brown own and operate Rancho Nicasio, an indoor-outdoor restaurant, special-events center and nightclub that regularly plays host to major talent across the blues/Americana spectrum. She is a member of The Blues Broads, a supergroup vocal ensemble that includes the legendary Tracy Nelson, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Simpson.
Not only is this disc a welcome return to the studio for Angela – her most recent solo release, Blue Highway, appeared on the M.C. imprint in 2005 – it also marks the rebirth of Antone’s, which has been dormant since Clifford’s early death in 1996.
Co-produced by Strehli and Brown, recorded at Laughing Tiger Studios in San Raphael, Calif., and mixed by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in San Jose, the lineup features Mighty Mike Schermer on lead guitar throughout.
He’s joined by Gary Vogensen, Kid Andersen and Walter “Gomez” Morgan Jr. on six-string, Steve Ehrmann and DaQuantae Johnson on bass, Kevin Hayes, Bill Gibson and Paul Revelli on drums, Jim Pugh, Mike Emerson, Johnny Allair and John Lee Sanders on keys and Mark Kazanoff on harmonica along with a horn section composed of Rob Sudduth and Johnnie Beaumont on saxes and Marvin McFadden on trumpet. The Sons of the Soul Revivers and Lisa Leuschner Andersen provide backing vocals.
With the exception of the closing number, all of the tunes – some cherished standards, others minor hits obscured by time — are culled from the catalogs of Angela’s favorite artists, mentors and biggest influences. A horn flourish opens “Two Steps from the Blues” before Angela’s rich, assertive alto delivers a warm, unhurried reading of the title song of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s first LP. It flows into a reinvented version of Elmore James’ “Person to Person.” Normally, a traditional Chicago blues, it takes on new appeal as a soul-blues propelled by the horns.
Strehli follows suit with O.V. Wright’s “Ace of Spades” to follow before launching into Muddy Waters’ “I Love the Life I Live,” aided by Kasanoff’s harp and then heating heat up dramatically with a driving take on Chuck Berry’s “You Can Never Tell” before a run of five Windy City numbers: Otis Rush’s “Gambler’s Blues” – which gives Schemer space to shine, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ for My Darling,” Otis Clay’s “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance” and Little Milton’s “More and More” before Dorothy Love Coates’ gospel pleaser, “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying,” takes you to church in style before “SRV,” an original penned decades after Vaughan’s passing, honors a long-lost friend to close.
Sure, Ace of Blues serves up a heaping helping of covers. But don’t let that dissuade you in picking up this one. All of the tunes take on a different dimension thanks to Angela’s unique interpretations. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy the extensive liner notes that detail her musical legacy and provide personal notes about each song and why she chose them. You’ll enjoy it. I know I did!