With Roots and Wings
For Nancy Josephson, the long arm of the South stretches all the way to the Canadian border. Northern bred, the summers of her youth were spent traversing the backroads and byways of her parents' Southern past. With a mother from Virginia and a father from North Carolina, vacations were long road trips and summers with grandparents. “We spent a lot of time driving down 95,” she said, “stopping at King's Barbeque in Petersburg VA, listening to country music stations. They just didn't have them up north.”
Her grandfather jump started a very early musical career. “I got my first guitar from my grandpa's dry goods store in Weldon NC,” she remembered, “a six dollar Stella.” That guitar blazed a trail she could not have then imagined, one which has led to the Angel Band.
Before Angel Band, Josephson's previous musical outing was with the Buffalo Gals, a Nashville-based all female group. “We made our home at the Station Inn,” she said, “which was where everybody made their home. It was the after-gig hangout for bluegrass and country musicians. Man, that was a hot scene. I mean, Bill Monroe would come in occasionally and Marty Stuart was there all the time. And afterwards, we would go over to Ingrid Fowler's. She was a fiddle player and Woody Herman's daughter and would have all these great musicians over, Ed Dye and the guys from the Nashville Bluegrass Band and more.”
After she left the Buffalo Gals, Josephson took some time off to work in the visual arts, but she soon realized that she missed the music--- specifically, singing with other women. “That chord is the thing,” she explained. “I love singing with guys. I love singing, period, but singing with women... It's just this thing--- this texture, this internal... I don't exactly know what it is, but whatever it is, it is one of the most satisfying things I can think of. When you hit that chord.”
Josephson searched high and low for vocalists in search of that same experience. She first found Jen Schonwald through Philadelphia folk music DJ Gene Shay, who had followed Schonwald's progress over the years with Phillie's Full Frontal Folk. A year later, Schonwald stumbled across Kathleen Weber while doing session work. After a simple audition, the three joined hands and voices.
“It's a tremendously intimate thing,” explained Josephson, “to be singing that close. We're matching breath, we're matching vibrato, we're matching our T's and our S's. It is a deeply intimate thing. And when it happens, there ain't nothin' like it. When we're onstage, it doesn't matter where we are. We're together.” Indeed, together is the way to describe them.
But about that CD. For With Roots and Wings, Josephson and David Bromberg, husband and member of backing group Chum, knew they needed a producer with a special touch--- someone who understood “that chord”. Who better to call on than Lloyd Maines, whose pedal steel is legend and whose credits include The Dixie Chicks and The Stairwell Sisters, among others? One listen to the demo tape and Maines signed on. It was a marriage made in Wilmington DE but it took Texas to bring it home.
From the voodoo-influenced “Hey Papa Legba” to the bayou flavored “I'll Sing This Song For You” to the old-timey “Cold Lonesome Down in Blackbird Creek”, the trio moves from song to song with consummate professionalism and soaring voice. The harmonies and feel could be no better on two standouts, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” from which the title of the album is taken, and “Moon Over Montgomery”--- the first hymnal and old-timey to a slight degree, the latter reminiscent of the likes of Emmylou in the days of “Quarter Moon”.
“That chord” surfaces in “Drown in the Fountain of Good”, a musically intriguing look at the Heavenly Vision. With plodding National Steel and a long drawn out single chord from what sounds like harmonium but could well be accordion, each Angel takes a verse, voices a hair breadth's distance apart until the harmonies kick in and, man oh man, it is sweet. If there be a dark side to Heaven, this has to be it.
By the time the album wrapped, Josephson was so impressed, she had T-shirts made emblazoned with a new band mantra--- WWLD. What Would Lloyd Do. “We're taking a lot of the information that we got in the studio and using it on the new stuff--- you know, life after the CD.”
That life is taking them all over the US this summer, from Portland ME to Portland OR and all points South as well. They already have enough good new material for another album and are adding new songs to the repertoire at the rate of one every two weeks or so. Which means that upon release (June 2008), “With Roots and Wings” is already yesterday's music. But it really isn't. There is a universal aspect to the music which, with all good music, makes it timeless.
As for the South, while Josephson spent a good bit of time there, the roots were really her parents. At least, she thinks so. Occasionally, though, especially when yelling at her kids, her voice automatically kicks into a Southern drawl. Maybe the roots are deeper than she thinks. And maybe it takes more than one generation to pull them up.
- Frank Gutch Jr