Tara Angell: She's been giving, she's been tapping in...
"Sometimes, we like to mess with your heads," announced the promoter, the chatter fading as the audience focused on the stage. Their eyes rest on the girl with penetrant eyes of arctic blue. Standing beside him with an electric guitar, she's beautiful, a little scary looking and all but aglow with a rare charisma. Encouraging welcoming applause, he concludes her introduction: "This is one of those times."
It sure was. I will vouch for the crackling uncertainty of those first few moments, when this startling creature in bondage pants and a tartan kilt stepped forward to perform for a crowd slavering for the rather less edgy, demure form of headliner Laura Cantrell. Before a chord was formed or a note was sung, I could feel a powerful experience ahead. It hung thick in the air like the smell of cold metal seconds before a storm. And as she started to play, the skies cracked open and drenched us all...
During New Yorker Tara Angell's cogent set of rock 'n' soul-baring that evening in Brighton, England, back in 2003, a couple of things became very clear. Firstly, here was a woman unafraid of standing emotionally naked and vulnerable before all onlookers. Her brutally honest lyrics weigh heavy with anger, defiance, regret and longing, beckoning the listener into a dark, confessional world of shattered dreams and melancholic reminiscence. Each song is a compelling gothic vignette with an overarching mood of dysfunction, mirroring the harrowing themes and explorations of mental anguish present in the works of writers William Styron and Flannery O'Connor, both major influences on Angell's life and work.
Secondly, she positively drips rock 'n' roll. You know she just breathes it, drinks it all in, lives it every day and that in her world there could be no sense in not hearing The Saints or John Lee Hooker at breakfast. And in her own interpretation, a raw sexiness collides with alluring mystique for an intense delivery, echoes of those informing her gorgeous, heavy music filtering through with devastating effect.
As NYC as Downtown 81 and the Gaslight Cafe, locked into the cadence of the city's pulsating streets, Tara Angell represents a natural marker in the lineage of Big Apple rock music. The spirits of Lou Reed, Suicide, Ramones and Television all inhabit the Angell musical persona. Even so, the New York factor is merely the beginning.
As is so with most good troubadours, Dylan looks on and she's a Neil Young devotee, but rocks equally to Hendrix, Sarah Vaughan, Bowie or Radio Birdman, while taking further inspiration from arguably lesser- known artists like leftfield blues maestro Chris Whitley or Memphis-rockers Reigning Sound. It's a potent brew.
The Tara Angell appearance staged by the promoter that sometimes likes to mess with our heads was booked on the strength of a clutch of songs on a sampler presented in unique, handmade packaging. This now precious artifact alone serves as ample illustration of the fierce commitment to her art that has seen Angell since shove her way into a crowded female singer-songwriter marketplace, release Come Down - her astounding, Joseph Arthur-produced debut album (Rykodisc: 2005) - and receive championing praise from giants including Ron Sexsmith, Daniel Lanois and Lucinda Williams. Not only have they been stunned by her songwriting prowess, but by her unique, spine-tingling voice.
Williams, in fact, Patti Smith (with whom, in Tony Shanahan, she shares a bassist), Marianne Faithfull and Thalia Zedek are vocal touchstones, her cracked voice oozing as much soul as Mary Margaret O'Hara. Surrounded by the swirling narcotic haze of her acid-country-tinged epics, it's a seriously muscular entity.
Maverick visionaries such as David Lynch and, as touched upon, the literary world also play their part in shaping Tara Angell's music and thinking, with author James Purdy particularly significant. A man driven to convey his personal despair concerning the abuse and exploitation of the weak, defenseless and innocent, his obsession with such injustices is reflected in Angell's exhaustive work for animal welfare in New York City.
As for Angell's long-awaited, hotly anticipated sophomore album, it is coming. I guarantee you this: it will be dark and beautiful... and it will mess with your head.
- DAVID MORRISON Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada (June 2007)