Lili Añel is an award-winning jazz/pop singer, songwriter and guitarist from Philadelphia. She returns to Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville to celebrate the release of “Another Place, Another Time” (WalI-I, 2017), her seventh release since 1994.
Añel once again teamed up with Dale Melton of the Melton Brothers to bring the project to life. She and Melton co-produced this album as well as her previous release, “I Can See Bliss from Here” (WalI-I, 2013).
“Another Place, Another Time” features four of Añel’s compositions, two of which she co-wrote with her sister, Barbara Añel. The other two songs are “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” written by Blind Willie Johnson and made famous by Nina Simone, and “Traffic Jam in a One Horse Town” written by Añel’s late friend Jef Lee Johnson.
In a telephone interview from her home, Añel talked about the new album.
“It was just one of those situations that felt really comfortable,” said Añel about working with Melton. “He understands where I’m coming from and I understand where he’s coming from. And you know it’s great because he’s a producer but he’s also a musician so in terms of sounds and in terms of arrangements he understands what I’m trying to bring across.
As for song selection, Añel said: “Dale and I would go through the songs in their infancy with just me on guitar. Usually it’s an agreement of ‘let’s do these.’ I’m the one who makes the final decision; it’s my record. But we’re in agreement. It’s never been a non-agreement. We’re pretty much in sync.”
She added: “In this case it became an EP instead of a full CD – not for lack of material but for lack of money. It costs money to make a record.”
As for choosing the cover songs, Añel said “I try to pick songs that aren’t the norm, that haven’t been covered by other people, although one of the songs in this case is an exception,” referring to “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine.”
“Someone that I know… introduced me to that song. He said ‘You should listen to that song and it will make your hair stand up’… So I went to listen to it and I was blown away. There’s a documentary that (Simone’s) daughter put out on her, ‘What Happened, Miss Simone’ that was on Netflix. And about five minutes into the documentary in the background you hear the song. And I took that as an affirmation that I should do that song.
“The other cover is a Jef Lee (Johnson) song, and Jef, as you well know, has a huge discography and a wealth of material. But I particularly like ‘Traffic Jam in a One Horse Town’ because, think about it… if a town only had one horse in it you could really never have a traffic jam, could you? But he finds a way to get behind the horse and never get around it,” she laughed.
She added: “It caught my attention that he was singing in his falsetto. And I just thought it was an interesting song and a challenge to me as well because I did it in the same key that he did it and I sang in my falsetto. I wanted to present something different in the recording this time, that I was singing in my upper register. I was lucky. I think I nailed it.”
Yes, Añel nailed it. Not just that song but all six songs on the album exhibit her smooth vocals, and the band provides the perfect backdrop to her voice. However, one might have to listen a few times to truly appreciate the understated musicianship.
“I wanted to do something different and overall this CD is a lot more sparse than some of my other recordings,” acknowledged Añel. “That was on purpose, to do something more minimal. It was to let the song completely serve itself.”
Other than Añel on acoustic guitar and vocals, Melton on piano, Chico Huff on bass and Jonathan Whitney on drums and percussion, there was only one additional musician on the recording, Philadelphia’s legendary tenor sax player Larry McKenna. “Another Place, Another Time,” the title track – a bossa nova – features McKenna on a saxophone solo.
“I was very fortunate to be able to get (him),” said Añel. “It was a wonderful experience for me to have been in the room to see how he worked. He’s a consummate professional and it kind of reminded me of Jef Lee… he just came in and nailed it. I knew he would be perfect for the song.”
Añel said that she’s very happy to be returning to Steel City, which has been resurrected by owners Ed Simpson and Laura Vernola since she last appeared there. She will be accompanied Melton on keyboards, Jeff Blount on bass and Whitney on drums and percussion. And Joy Ike will open the show.
“It’s a wonderful place to go hear music” said Añel about Steel City. “It’s a very comfortable place and a great listening room. As a patron of the place when I’ve gone I’ve always been very relaxed and comfortable and I would hate to see it go.”