Bob Angell – Supernal Blues
15 songs, 45 minutes
“Supernal” is defined as relating to the sky or the heavens; celestial; of exceptional quality or extent. Veteran Rhode Island Bluesman Bob Angell’s new album Supernal Blues does not relate to the sky or heavens like a Brian Eno soundscape. Nor is it celestial in a David Bowie androgynous astro-traveling space junky sense. Traditional Blues enthusiasts won’t even say that Angell’s rough and tumble often skewed and decidedly non-traditional approach is of exceptional quality. However, for those of us who want our Blues to sound personal, surprising and unique Bob Angell and his magnificent Supernal Blues is a fresh oasis.
Supernal Blues’ 15 tracks, recorded mainly at Stable Sound Studio in Newport, RI and 3 cuts recorded at the mythic Sun Studios in Memphis, run a gambit from stripped down solo stomps to expansive multi-tracked deconstructions. There is whimsy and irreverence, heartfelt reflection and lamentation and even some master classes in Angell’s specific skewed traditional take on the Blues. Angell plays his acoustic and electric guitars throughout with fluidity and the sound of years of honing his chops. Angell is not an angelic singer. Delivering his songs with a talking Blues style Angell’s delivery is reminiscent of Lou Reed or Frank Zappa more than Blind Boy Fuller (who he name checks) or Muddy Waters. Supporting musicians come in for single tracks primarily. Duke Robillard duets with Angell on the instrumental opener “Immediate Blues.” Vinnie Earnshaw on bass and Jack Moore on drums fill out the swinging instrumental workout “Slo-Pokin’.” Kelly Knapp and Dylan Walker offer background vocals each on separate tracks and Harmonica Robert Marsella offers his namesake instrument on two songs.
Supernal Blues sounds like Angell opening up his diary to us and sharing both his deep meditations and humor. The mournful “If You’re Really Gonna Leave Me” features Marsella’s haunting harp work dancing between Angell’s overdubbed electric lead punctuating a lonely Skip James inspired acoustic/vocal performance. As song 3 on the record after the fun filled “Blue Memphis,” “Gonna Leave Me” revs up the emotional stakes. Drags through the depths are balanced by double entendre laced romps like “Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin’.” Angell asks his lady friend to put on her party pants cause “we’re eatin’ out tonight.” Extolling her “don’t tell your husband, he won’t see it right, eatin’ ain’t cheatin’ and your love is tasting good tonight.” Adding to the diary effect are the solo electric guitar instrumentals “One Minute With The Blues” and “One More Minute With The Blues” each a minute and clearly outtakes from some in studio warming up included for fun.
Supernal Blues is a record full of solo finger picked Blues a la Blind Boy Fuller and Skip James, old school Rock n’ Roll teen bops and deep dark Blues, with a healthy dose of humor and sentiment infused. But, the 1-2 bizarro punches of the last two tracks on the record leave the already punch drunk listener TKO. “Lonely Here No More,” the penultimate tune, starts with a heavily fuzzed out, compressed to within an inch of its life, slide guitar riff. A second ragged slide comes in and the tempo undulates into a slowed down minor drag. Keeping the whole 5 minutes and 11 seconds just these two manic guitars and Angell’s affecting graveled holler, the song exudes loneliness and pain. The final song, and only cover, is a not so traditional arrangement of the hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” Cinematic in arrangement, “Jesus Loves Me” starts simply with a piano and chorus of sweet female voices. Giving way to rolling NOLA inspired piano and acoustic slide guitar almost working against each other before rolling back into a final pass at the lyrics, this performance sounds like it was what Willie Nelson and the Family messed around on between takes of the Red Headed Stranger in 1975.
Bob Angell is a founding father of North Eastern Blues. His band Blues Outlet in the late 60’s was one of the first electric Blues bands in Rhode Island. It was in the Ocean State that North Eastern Blues would be born and where it still is thriving. Supernal Blues is a modern testament to the unique nature of North Eastern Blues. Reverence balances with individuality while adding some North Eastern grit.