Just a little while into my first conversation with Angel, I thought: Yeah, she sounds like she sings some mean blues.
Hers is that raspy type of voice that sounds like what I've heard of Janis Joplin in old video footage, minus Janis' Texas drawl.
And that suits Angie fine. Not only is she really a blues singer, under her nom de guerre of Angel Blue, but she does a heck of a Janis impression, both in song and persona. We'll get to that a bit later.
For now, let's talk about her band, The Angel Blue Band. They're wrapping up work on a new album, "Bottom of the Bottle Blues," and plan a CD release party on Dec. 2 at the Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square.
"What I like about the CD is that you don't hear too many people coming up with original blues," she says. But that's exactly what she's working on: her own compositions, lyrically, with some musical assistance from her band's drummer, Scott McLean. And seeing as how she's the voice here, "These songs are coming from a woman's perspective."
Except, that is, for the title track, for which she drew inspiration from a scene one New year's morning ... you can picture it. Not only does the song "Bottom of the Bottom Blues" have a cool enough name to lend itself to the whole album, it will feature a pretty cool guest guitarist: Reb Beach, the Pittsburgh native of Winger, Dokken, etc. fame.
The album, in fact, is full of guest guitarists from Pittsburgh's rock/blues scene, including Buddy Hall, Frank Giovi, Randall Troy, Lee Cherry and Craig King. Her goal is to showcase some noteworthy axemen.
"There is fabulous talent here," she says. "We probably have more talent here in this little city than in many of our surrounding states. I believe that firmly."
There's some talent in her working band, too, including a pair of guitarists who look to have a bright future, considering their head start on stage: Lee Hindman is 18 and Dan Parks is 17.
"Between the two of them, we have a real nice sound," Angel says, noting they drew their blues influence at young ages from Stevie Ray Vaughan; and in turn from his big influence, Jimi Hendrix; and in turn from Jimi's influences, people like "Muddy, B.B. and Robert Johnson."
The other Prophets are Scott, who studied at the Berklee School of Music, has his own private studio and has recorded a solo CD, "Rock and Roll Karma"; and bass player Jonathan Smith, a longtime veteran of the regional musical scene. The sound is fleshed out by Joe Maryanski on saxophone and Jeff Conners on keyboards and harmonica.
While they're finishing the CD, band members continue to play at venues around the area, showcasing their instrumental skills while backing an emotional, distinctive vocalist.
So, why does Angel Blue sing the blues?
"By happenstance," she says. See, Angel was in a wreck a number of years ago, and her injuries changed her from a soprano to sounding more like Janis. "I thought, my voice is ruined."
She'd sung before, but stopped for a while, until an impromptu performance at a party. A gentleman within earshot sidled up to her and said, "How would you like to help me out with a festival? I'm in a blues band."
As Angel tells it: "I said, 'What's the blues?'"
The guys in that band showed her, playing classics from T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters and the like. So Angel learned some tunes and belted them out for the festival, a charity event benefitting an organization that helps children who've lost a parent.
Ironically, around the same time, her mother, the late Margaret D'Ambrosio, told her: "If I die tomorrow, I want you to sing."
"She knew me better than myself," Angel calls.
So she followed her mother's wishes, forming her own band a few months later and starting to adapt some of her poetry to original blues lyrics. (Margaret also was a talented poet, and Angel is planning a recording featuring her mother's work.)
The band adopted the moniker of Angel Blue. "People started to call me Angel Blue," Angel says. "They said, 'You're going to be the next Barbara Blue,'" a reference to the Memphis-based blues singer who happens to be another Pittsburgh native.
Later down the road, she altered the name of the band slightly to become Angel Blue, and the result can be heard shortly on "Bottom of the Bottle Blues."
Oh, more about her and Janis: Angel is putting together a show for April 7 called "Cheap Thrills (Are You Experienced?)," a dual tribute in which she'll be Miss Joplin and Craig King will be Mr. Hendrix. Plus, we might hear from Mr. Vaughan, too.
So, there are a couple of more dates to mark on your calendar: Dec. 2, 2005, and April 7, 2006. Or, if you want to hear a rousing performance before then, check out Angel Blue Band live.
And hear a voice that's made to sing the blues (and Janis Joplin tunes).
When it comes to the blues, there's a lot more than first meets the ear.
The many variations on the genre's basic theme are amply demonstrated by Pittsburgh-area band Angel Blue and the Prophets on their new album, "Bottom of the Bottle Blues."
From the innovatively presented opening track - I won't give away the details - through a slide guitar-driven, Bo Diddley-beat closer, the disc steers clear of sounding anything close to repetitious. In some places, it makes you want to get up and dance; in others, it might prompt you to pour a shot (see title track). And for guitarists, this is a great play-along record, although you're bound to have trouble keeping up with the assembled instrumental talent.
Above all, this is Angel's show. Angel wasn't formally trained as a vocalist (or a songwriter, for that matter). But you wouldn't know it by listening to her voice - often gritty, occasionally sweet - carry a set of mostly original compositions, for which she wrote lyrics from a decidedly female point of view.
One of the highlights, for example, is "Guilty Baby," where a single guitarist accompanies Angel through a fun, sexy monologue about her love for an unnamed, second-person gentleman. (Red-blooded male listeners just might come away hoping it's them.)
And speaking of fun, there's "Shimmy Shakin' Lowdown Blues," a song with a title that says it all - and one that gets a great response on the dance floor when Angel Blue and the Prophets play it live.
Contrasting the jubilant "Shimmy" is the minor-chord title song, on which Angie's voice navigates a range of a couple of octaves to effectively convey a sense of desperation. (This is the blues, after all.) Helping drive the tune are some emotionaly charged guitar passages by special guest Reb Beach, he of Winger, Whitesnake and other high-profile acts.
The album also features guest spots by a couple of other Pittsburgh area guitarists: Lee Cherry on "Short Chain" and Frank Giovi on "Love You Any Less."
That's in addition to the guys who work with Angie regularly: Jonathan Smith on bass, Jeff Conners on keyboards, Joe Maryanski on sax and guitarists Dan Parks and E. Lee Hindman Jr.
Oh, and there's one more band member, Angel's longest-serving collaborator ("I wouldn't have the band without him," Angel says): drummer Scott McLean, who also plays keyboards and bass on the album, as well as co-producing it and writing the music to Angie's lyrics. After hearing Scott's solo album, "Rock and Roll Karma," I was expecting a great sound with the Angel Blue project. And I certainly wasn't disappointed.
"Bottom of the Bottle Blues" covers a lot of territory in 50 minutes, including a renditions of Blind Willie McTell's "Stormy Monday" recorded three years ago by the original incarnation of the band, with Lou Macarelli and George Waller on guitars and Pete LaCava on bass, along with Scott. And the disc wraps up with probably my favorite track (I'm partial to the Bo Diddley Beat), "Johnny McGaster," a triumphant song of liberation propelled by some exceptional slide playing, by Lee Hindman.
Angel Blue and the Prophets is hosting a CD release party for "Bottom of the Blues" this Friday, Dec. 2, at the Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square, with the Craig King Band opening and the Sonic Blues Band closing. Check it out to see what the blues is all about.