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Andrew D'Angelo: Story of the Living

Daniel Lehner By

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The album artwork for Andrew D'Angelo's Norman features the album's namesake, D'Angelo's grandfather, as a young man, seated slyly and serenely. The significance of naming the album "Norman" was not only a nod to the fact that D'Angelo bears that as his middle name, but also that the album is dedicated in part to D'Angelo's mother.

"I really wanted to make a record basically for my mother. Because, I mean, can you imagine what it's like watching your son go through brain cancer?"

It's still deeply unsettling, even long since after getting a bill of complete recovery from doctors, to think that about seven years ago, D'Angelo was given a prognosis that he'd be dead within a year. One year turned to three, and eventually D'Angelo was told that the cancer would never come back. Still, the lingering story of D'Angelo's cancer struggle imprints itself onto Norman, a trio album that will reunite him with his other Gay Disco bandmates, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Jim Black.

"I did these two brain surgeries and I couldn't play, so I sat and wrote the music on the record. The people I played it for said that it really sounded like a different me. It's definitely softer. I think that many people who go through a major health crisis and miraculously come out the other end alive would have some understanding of life. I worked with a lot of medical intuitives, light healers, energy healers, etc. and I mean, love is the highest vibration there is. Love heals. I won't say I got there immediately but the music I was playing and working on was coming from that place of love, which to me is a softer sound and a higher vibration."

On the other end of the spectrum, D'Angelo could identify that, if the music produced after his clean bill was of a higher, softer love vibration, the music made during the struggle was possibly edgier and harder because of it. Beyond just speculation, D'Angelo could point to a medical reason for this phenomenon. "Immediately following the brain surgery, they took out my right frontal lobe," D'Angelo explained, "and one of the side effects of that is anger, because your humor is effected by that part of the brain. I was also on anti-seizure medication, one of the side effects of which was agitation, so I'm not necessarily blaming any of that for my mood, but yeah, I was pissed off. Oddly enough, I didn't know that at the time until a friend showed it to me."

The tracks that make up Norman are from different time periods, but the most recently written one, the gorgeous title track written by fellow reedist Bill McHenry, is the most recent and can be directly traced to D'Angelo's cancer status. "I've talked to Bill about this and he said he fretted over it," D'Angelo recalled. "He was writing it when I was in the hospital, so it could have very well been performed at my funeral, just as it could have been played at my celebration. Bill was certain that it would be played at my celebration, though. But he'd said to me, 'this is a really important song for me and I need to hear you play it and it's your song, not mine.'"

Norman will be the first recording D'Angelo will put out as an LP. The decision to release it on vinyl also relates back to D'Angelo's mother. "I though, what the heck? I'll not only release a record, called 'Norman,' which is my mom's dad and my middle name, but I'll make an LP so that my mom can be psyched about playing it on a turntable."

Family and friends had made for strong sources of inspiration when it came to the music on Norman. D'Angelo explained, "That song, 'Enzo,' which is the name of my nephew, I wrote that when he was eight and he's now 21 or so. He's kind of this mafia looking kid; his name is Enzo Augustine D'Angelo-Patricio. He's big but he's real sweet. So I wrote it for him when he was eight and I just shelved it. I wrote it and I recorded it with Ben Street and Jeff Ballard, but that never came out. There was something about it; it was very soft. It was almost like it was foreshadowing a future version of myself."

Softness is a major theme in the slight departure of this realm of D'Angelo's music versus his previous output, ascribed to the aforementioned love vibrations in his post-recovery phase. It's even referenced in the liner notes (written by his brother Thomas D'Angelo) that the music sometimes sounds like a different Andrew D'Angelo. But in addition to the gentler, more introspective sounds of tunes like "Norman" and "Enzo," there are also simmering, groove-oriented jaunts, some of which reference D'Angelo's musical compatriots.

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