“Precious, the look upon your face, I wish I could frame it, you watch me dancing in the crowd, laughing way too loud, but you’re too sweet to ever call me out.”
-Ali Angel, “Loving You Lately”
EXT: SUBURBAN HOME – DAY
Bubbles drift toward the clear blue sky above a circle of parents and toddlers. The gathering claps and sings along to a female guitarist strumming away on her acoustic, swaying back and forth while sitting cross-legged on plush green grass. The adults move the children’s arms like puppets as giggles and smiles fill a fenced backyard in the confines of suburbia.
EXT: BEACH – NIGHT
The slow climb of the tide pushes against the sand before sliding back into the Pacific. Sparks float slowly yet uncontrollably to join the endless dots that speckle the black blanket above. The same guitarist, shifting her tone, plays a tune as folks pause their casual conversations and toast their drinks as they enjoy a pseudo concert around a bonfire.
Ali Angel is that versatile performer from both scenes. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter is a fresh talent and brings along a soulful perspective. Her voice is pure and comforting and her sound blends generational roots.
“There’s always something new, there’s always something changing, I’m always evolving. … I want to be as real as I can always,” Angel said. “I’m on the side of looking at the glass half-full and getting the vibe out.”
From Al Green to Sheryl Crow to Sturgill Simpson, Angel’s influences are apparent in her music. The folksy rhythms combined with the use of brass and solid structure provide listeners with not only a great sound but an undeniably groovy vibe.
Angel’s journey is spelled out for the audience through her notes and her words.
Angel is a product of her surroundings and luckily for her, she grew up and lived in some of the best American music scenes. New Orleans provided her with a history of jazz and brass; Nashville gave her a course on twang and rhythm, and Los Angeles brought everything together through experimentation, ambiance and attitude.
After working a life in retail, Angel found a chance opportunity to headline “mommy and me” music classes, which she has continued doing so for two years and counting. The strums, drums and sing-a-longs, the parachutes and bubbles all tend to become a part of the artist as a whole. She’s capable of transposing her outlook on life between age groups and genres to make each listener have a good time.
Being able to play music during the day and also have the flexibility to work on her original material has been perfect for crafting her sound and what genre she satisfies.
“It’s like the retro-soul-pop world … I love all of that music and I try to get my sound to fit in with that world,” she said.
Outside of retro-soul-pop, there is also some country twang present along with indie and classic rock and Americana. She’s able to display her versatility vocally and musically with seemingly no effort or straying from distinction. She’s taking the ’60s and ’70s and blending that generation’s sound with the strong female voice of the ‘90s, combining revolutions in a time when everything is coming back full circle – as is the case with music every 30 years (give or take).
“I love the ‘70s, the liberation … just like taking independence and singing about topics that weren’t necessarily in the mainstream but doing it in creative ways and empowering ways. I love all of that. I also love the style, the aesthetics … I’m a huge vintage fan.”
Angel admitted her mother and father served as great musical influences with the songs they introduced her to as a child, and her vast knowledge and exposure to music guides her abilities. From The Dip to Spoon to Margo Price to Elton John to The Beatles to The Eagles to The Chicks to No Doubt to Jack Johnson and on and on, she has a plethora of inspirations. Yet, it always comes back to the scene.
Los Angeles is a melting pot of musicians and other artists. It has always been a place to try and make it, or at least fake it until opportunities present themselves. Angel doesn’t view it as oversaturated competition, but rather a community, which serves as a benefit.
“Being from LA, it’s super lucky and helpful because you just know so many people who know so many people,” she explained. “Just putting myself out there and getting different contacts and writing with different people and just saying yes to everything.”
She was able to connect with 606 Studio engineer Oliver Roman through a family friend. After an instant bond of musical tastes, Roman offered the support of his band Jaw Talk, and then an act was formed and has blossomed since.
“I am most impressed by her dedication to learning and perfecting her skills as a writer, artist and musician,” Roman said. “Some artists are very private about their creative process, but Ali is always excited to hear something.”
He added, “Ali always comes in with new and fresh ideas. … I like the music we make together and I think other people will too.”
Though the pandemic has presented obstacles, as it has for all artists, Angel and Roman were able to overcome uncontrollable communication issues and keep recording until the music was finished.
Using life situations, Angel tries to record every chance she gets when the idea is fresh, but also sometimes writes without intention. With good lyrics and great rhythm, there’s a solid balance of which holds more weight from song to song. The passion shifts depending on the emotional tone or tendencies, creating a full catalog, which is vital for any artist.
Angel released her debut single “Play Pretend” last year and the track defined her music right from the beginning. It not only captures her sound but her general outlook and vibe as well.
The song builds up nicely in each verse with flowing production elements that fit the brief vocal breaks, and the addition of soft chimes and whistles transitioning out of the brass background and into the slightly fuller chorus is a good complement. The key to a song with a beat like this is to keep it in motion and Angel executes this exceptionally. The listener can easily get lost in the music and the trance is only broken when the track ends.
Her next release was a cover of Green’s “I’m A Ram.” Angel’s version dropped weeks ago. There are differences, however, so it’s not a straight cover which is refreshing. It’s also not a slower cover of a song that should never drastically lose tempo (in this specific case) for the sake of an artsy rendition – which has been trending for too long. Though releasing a cover early in a songwriter’s career can be risky, Angel didn’t offer a carbon copy like some artists do, and it worked because it fits her sound and her influences.
“It wasn’t really super intentional. I love Al Green and this is one of my favorite songs by him … and one day we kind of were just like you know what, it would be really fun and easy, we already have the whole thing down, to record a version of this. … It’s kind of a cool way to do a lesser known song from a legend and give it a new breath of fresh air.”
Green’s original has a more prominent brass presence, but Angel replaces those loud distinct notes found in the verses with slide guitar. Yet, the song doesn’t lose anything, and that is partially due to what fans have come to expect from her after her previous release. She obviously has no problem using brass but shows her versatility by not relying on it. The other difference is in the vocals. Green used his sharp vocal cuts and playful groans to jam with the long outro, but Angel takes the opportunity to showcase her range and ability to hit notes with ease.
“Extra Wild” was released on March 4. It’s clean, catchy, and all the small elements of the production blend together. The listener gets that great brass addition again, with a smooth and simple bass line that stands out, and there even – and this may be my ears playing tricks on me – seems to be a wave simulation subtly pulsing in the background. The highlight, however, is the sexy saxophone solo that emerges to keep the groove steady through the rest of the track.
“I’ve always wanted to do music that I Iove. … I feel like most successful artists in the past haven’t made music they thought people wanted to hear so they just wanted to make the music they wanted to make. I feel there is space for every kind of sound.”
Angel has certainly captured her own sound and the music translates to a broad audience. Her next release, “Middle Name,” will drop on April 8.