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Lili Añel: Better Days

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Singer-songwriter Lili Añel and Better Days sound cut straight out of the northeast US. It's more than the geographic location of Añel's birth (Spanish Harlem, "El Barrio," in New York) or where she was raised (South Bronx), and it's more than where she has based her career (Philadelphia, PA). It's in the sound and attitude of her music. The songs on Better Days address real situations in Añel's own life and in others with an emotional directness straight from that industrial Route I-95 northeast corridor and an emotional transparency direct from the Joni Mitchell singer-songwriter introspective confessional. (Añel honors Mitchell on Better Days by covering "Number One," Mitchell's sort of "Both Sides Now" rumination on the pleasant and painful aspects of professional competition.)

To accompany this very real sense of real-ness in her songs, Añel keeps soul and R&B in the neighborhood or at least around the corner of every verse and beat— for example, this slightly blue and somewhat jazzy take on Sly and the Family Stone's "Family Affair" that quite comfortably suits the mature wisdom of Añel's style and voice.

Keyboard player Dale Melton and drummer Jonathan Whitney threaten to melt two tunes with New Orleans fire and brimstone. After Añel rips open "Take It From Me" with a vocal line possessed by the voodoo preacher spirit of Doctor John, Melton both sweetens and deepens the sound with soulful organ while Whitney bounces drumbeats off of the horn refrains to kick up its funky Crescent City rhythm. In the leadoff track "Thin Line," Melton and Whitney toss around swivel-hipped New Orleans sounds like they're throwing hot dice, while Anel's voice dives and swims in their powerful currents. Jeffrey Blount slaps and pops his bass solo into the airy break, while saxophonist Korey Riker and trumpeter Christopher Stevens chirp in sharp jazz-pop sliced from a Steely Dan tart. Leaving Anel's joyous closing shout "Put some beans in it!" as the music fades was an excellent production decision that helps this tune and Better Days leave a great taste behind.

Track Listing

Thin Line; Better Days; Number One; Take It From Me; The Wrong Time; Family Affair; Peace of Mind; Supposed to Be; George Bailey's Lament.

Personnel

Lili Añel: voice / vocals.

Lili Añel: vocals, acoustic guitar; Dale Melton: grand piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3; Jeffrey Blount: bass; Jonathan Whitney: drums, percussion; John Lilley: Electric Guitar on “Peace of Mind”; Korey Riker: Tenor Saxophone (Better Days); Tenor/Baritone/Alto saxophones, Flute (Take It From Me and Thin Line); Christopher Stevens: Trumpet (Take it From Me); Trumpet and Flugelhorn (Thin Line).

Album information

Title: Better Days | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Winding Way Records

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