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Lili Añel: Another Place, Another Time

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Lili Añel, one of Philadelphia's premier singer-songwriters, plays and sings with a lifetime's worth of emotion through the six songs on her 2017 EP Another Place, Another Time. Coming twenty years after her recorded debut, and her first release since 2013, Another Place plays on many of Añel's own heartstrings but also resonates with the listener's. "I wanted to do something different and overall this CD is a lot more sparse than some of my other recordings," Añel explained in an interview. "That was on purpose, to do something more minimal. It was to let the song completely serve itself."

Añel wrote some great songs for this set. But her vocals throughout are nothing short of melodically—and, more importantly, emotionally—stunning. Her scat vocal over the bridge brings out the lyrical and musical whimsy underlying "I Don't Care (Groucho's Blues)," one of two songs Lili co-wrote with her sister Barbara. The sisters also teamed to write the opening, title track, in which Lili's strummed acoustic guitar and vocal embraces Larry McKenna's saxophone in elegant bossa nova echoes of Stan Getz with Joao Gilberto ("A bossa nova—I could not imagine it sounding any other way," Añel explains). Her voice, not quite as girl-ish as Astrud Gilberto's, is still tender and pliant—not quite the sound of regret, more a resignation and turning away, and then finding the strength and courage to move forward.

Añel closes with two homages to her friend and inspiration, Philadelphia's composer and guitarist Jef Lee Johnson who succumbed to pneumonia and other diabetic complications in 2013. She covers the verses to Johnson's 2002 tune "Traffic Jam In a One Horse Town" in a soaring falsetto, but remains earthbound to double-track harmony with herself for the chorus. "It was a challenge for me to sing out of my range, but I truly enjoyed doing so," she allows. Her final word, "I'll Never Forget You," sings out her elegy for her fallen creative comrade: "You touched my soul when you played your guitar, I'll never forget you...You're part of my heart now, you're part of me."

In between, Añel animates "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine" with vibrant, genuine soul. You'd think she'd find little new in this 1927 stomp, but you'd be wrong. "This song is fundamentally very religious if you listen to Blind Willie Johnson's original version," she explains. "While I do agree that you eventually reap what you sow in this life, I wanted the song to represent me, so I wrote a bridge to it." The drum kicks the heavy beat while Hammond organ swirls around Añel's lead vocal—an amalgamation of blues, gospel, folk, rock and R&B, but all the way soulful and blue.

I most often find myself (most respectfully) describing Lil Añel as "the jazz Phoebe Snow": She writes clever, compelling songs that her soulful voice—sometimes brooding, sometimes beaming—renders with emotional power and grace. Yet she's a jazz tinkerer (for example, the title tracks winds up—and winds down—as a samba, and she writes her own joyous bridge into the blues tune), and explores through her songs less conventional, more different sound combinations and structures. Here's looking forward to the next time she visits Another Place, Another Time.

Track Listing: Another Place, Another Time, I Don't Care (Groucho's Blues), It's Nobody's Fault But Mine, Forgotten, Traffic Jam In A One Horse Town, I'll Never Forget You

Personnel: Lili Anel: vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion; Dale Melton: piano, b3, producer, engineer, CD Master; Chico Huff: bass; Jonathan Whitney: drums, percussion; Larry McKenna: special guest, tenor saxophone on "Another Place, Another Time"

Title: Another Place, Another Time | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Wall-I Records

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