Angell, James


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Biography: James Angell

Paul McCartney and Dennis D'Amico have selected the first track "Ooh Love" for the Garland Appeal's second compilation CD. James Angell will perform his songs with the Garland Appeal's full orchestra backing him in Pasadena, CA.

"The underground classic of 2002" as Angell's new release was aptly named by All Music Guide, was also very well reviewed by The New Yorker, Magnet Magazine and Alternative Press. John Taylor of (Duran Duran) was so intrigued by Angell's performance in NYC Taylor is now performing with Angell at some upcoming shows.

Interestingly, David Bowie has also personally voiced his intent to make a bid and potentially sign Angell to his independent label. Angell is a native of Portland, Oregon where he continues to live and work. A fixture during the frenzy of the early 90's northwest music explosion, he has performed, written and recorded with such P-town notables as Courtney Taylor-Taylor (The Dandy Warhols), Tony Lash (Heatmiser, Elliot Smith), Eric Matthews, Daniel Riddle (King Black Acid) and Thee Slayer Hippy, producer and drummer of the notorious heavyweight punks, (Poison Idea). After years of group efforts he finally embarked on something so many others had been asking for, a solo album.

He dropped out of the scene, had a daughter, designed and built a house in the woods and purchased enough recording gear to make this record. He sat in his kitchen with a piano, a synth, a mic and finished in the fall of 2001 with "Private Player". Beneath these arrangements lies a gritty soul, a sound track for the subconscious giving everyday events a cinematic gravity.

Private Player, the remarkable new album by James Angell, is a pop resurrection. Angell was there when interest in music from the Pacific Northwest exploded in the early Nineties, and as singer and songwriter for the seminal Portland band Nero's Rome, he was part of the exciting pop scene. He felt the high of being signed to a major label deal not once but twice, but the pain of having both deals fall through when the labels reorganized internally broke his heart. "I took four years off after that," Angell remembers, during which time he moved to the woods outside Portland. Only recently, he ended his self-imposed exile and recorded Private Player on Psycheclectic Records, a recording Matthew Greenwald of declared, "The underground classic of 2002."

Classics are not made over night though. Just a little over two years ago Angell began writing again when, like Henry D. Thoreau, he found his muse in his isolation. This time, the music came not from listening to popular music - "I have a piss poor record collection," he confesses - but from remembering old church hymns. "My father was a Baptist minister," Angell explains, "and I grew up in an old-fashioned Baptist church. We could only listen to classical music or hymns, the old hymns." On Private Player, you can hear that influence in the beautiful open chords and the melancholy seriousness of the songs. "The music that affects me has a sadness about it," he says.

The aching, dreamy pop of Private Player was written in a vacuum with no end result in mind. The ancient upright piano, the synth he got for his birthday, microphone, recording gear, these are the tools that made this miracle happen. With a keen sense of texture and melodic subtleties, he "tweaked tracks until the wee hours," he says, and the result of that attention is particularly evident on the atmospheric "Call Off the War" - which recalls Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes - and "Ed Blue Bottle," where Tom Waits meets Brian Eno meets David Lynch.

With a poet's grace and insight, Angell examines the emotional turbulence of domestic life on Private Player, and he does so in lovely musical settings that are never as spare as they initially seem. At first listen, Angell's hushed tenor and piano define the songs, but "there's a lot of music going on there," he explains. The simplest melodies develop jazzy or psychedelic dimensions - sometimes both - so the songs gain depth and resonance with each listen. While much of the musical coloring is subtle, his 3 1/2 year-old daughter Astrid's "reading" of a passage from a book on physics in the beginning of "Sweet Bell" is startling. "I read it to her three or four words at a time and had her repeat them after me," he explains. "Then we took the tape to a studio and cut out my prompting to edit it into seamless speech." The results are not quite seamless though, leaving a voice as unsettling as that of the dwarf in Twin Peaks, and one that suits the distant, drifting feel of the song.

Recording in the privacy of his cottage in the woods gave Angell the license to craft music that is deeply felt and highly personal. Separated from the peer pressures that accompany recording in studios, he trusted his musical intuition and made daring decisions, and many tracks "are based on accidents." Often he used first and second takes of tracks, stopping musicians before they fully developed their parts, and he applied the same aesthetic to his vocals. "There's a fair amount of loose stuff on the vocals," but that "loose stuff" adds a distinctive personality to the album. Making unconventional decisions might seem wrong, but his courageous approach became part of his recording philosophy; "there must always be something that's not quite right. There's got to be something kinky going on."

With the wealth of musical talent available in Angell's circle, one of Angell's bolder decisions on Private Player was to have his brother Theo and his sister Christina sing backing vocals on the recording. The decision was partially based on talent - "Our family's very musical," he explains - but it was also because "the rule of thumb on this record was 'Use what's at hand.'" Still, he knew better than to take that homemade ideal too far. For other parts, he turned to his friends in Portland's stellar musical community. "I always need an excellent drummer," Angell says, so he turned to Tony Lash of Heatmiser. He also turned to Daniel Riddle of King Black Acid for guitar, and he reunited with former bandmate Tod Morrisey, who contributes additional vocals. On the wistful "Treat Song," Angell enlisted the services of Eric Matthews to add his haunting trumpet.

Private Player, as the name implies, truly is a more personal record, but as John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, Big Star's Sister Lovers and Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs have shown, the personal albums are often the most resonant.

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Contributor organisation: Psychecletic Records



 Private Player (1 review)2002

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