BWW Music Review: Rebecca Angel's Excellent WHAT WE HAD Brings Samba Grooves to a New Generation
Released on June 1, 2018 on the aptly named Timeless Grooves Records label, Rebecca Angel's WHAT WE HAD is a delightful series of tuneful excursions. In fact, the album's eponymous track written by Dennis Angel (her Father, who's also a trumpeter), Rebecca, and guitarist Jonah Prendergast, has already received airplay on some Billboard stations, and deservedly so. While some of the songs here are lovingly interpreted classics, the eponymous "What We Had" is an evocative original that fits in perfectly with the exotic and jazzy vibe that's established at the outset by Angel and producer/arranger Jason Miles. Angel's voice and style are suggestive of both Sade and Astrud Gilberto, but not in a cloying manner. Indeed, it's an approach that is both endearing and enduring, lending each song a sensual immediacy that's undeniably appealing in an age where autotune and trap beats dominate the soundtrack of our lives.
Kicking off with Hoagy Carmichael's "Winter Moon" is an inspired choice, with Mino Cinelu's percussion, Jason Miles' Fender Rhodes, and Hailey Niswanger's soprano sax adding textures to the sound that take it to another place and time while still retaining Carmichael's melancholy, and slightly wistful, melody. After the aforementioned "What We Had," we're treated to the Brazilian number "Agora Sim," which floats along on a sea of gorgeous, wordless, harmonies by Angel, and features Sebastian Stoger on cello.
Another D.Angel/R. Angel composition follows with "Feel Alive," which displays definite crossover appeal. In fact, it's the type of song that you'd welcome hearing again and again, because it's clever and catchy while maintaining the album's enticing South American feel. Ben E. King's classic "Stand By Me" allows Angel to veer from the path of the rest of the album, and it's a refreshing cover that's more simplistically arranged than the other material, but still sparkling due to the vocal layers that producer Miles has Angel weave throughout. "Jet Samba" is an absolute blast! It's pure, beautifully produced, Samba for modern ears, but with tasteful touches that evoke the past. A remix of "Stand By Me (Electro Remix)" is actually better than the version that appears earlier, with a more ethereal, electronica, ambience pervading the sound. "Jet Samba (Ipanema Remix)" is an interesting take, and features the decidedly funky and delightfully cheesy sound of the Vox Continental organ. Though not quite as charming as the other version on the CD, it has definite dance floor appeal.
So much of what you hear on the radio and Spotify is just corporate pap, much of which sounds so similar that you can fade one song into the next without noticing much of a difference. That's what makes Rebecca Angel's WHAT WE HAD so special. It's a throwback in some ways, but to an especially tuneful period in our musical history. I've tried to stay away from using the more obvious adjectives to describe Angel, but I'm going to give in because there's just no denying the soulful and sultry talent and musical persona that she possesses. You'll notice it right away when you see her posed against a dark gray backdrop, with her long tresses dangling in front of one eye like film noir heroine Veronica Lake on the cover of the CD. But, it's the moment when the beat kicks in, and Rebecca Angel starts to sing, that you find yourself completely captivated by her. Jason Miles' work playing, producing, arranging, and guiding some terrific musicians in support of this must-hear chanteuse brings a real sense of warmth to the work. WHAT WE HAD is a real treat, and Rebecca Angel's voice and writing are superb evidence of an artist with a very bright future ahead of them.