Blues Bytes


November 2022

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Angela Strehli
Ace Of Blues

New West Records / Antone Records

Angela Strehli

Angela Strehli has been known as the "queen of Texas blues" for much of her career, dating back to the 1970s, even after she and her husband moved to northern California in 1989. She founded Antone's Records, with the first release, Soul Shake, coming from Strehli and her band, followed by several more releases.

Now 76, Strehli still sounds as strong as ever when she steps up to the mic. Her new album, Ace Of Blues, recorded over 12 days at Laughing Tiger Studios in San Raphael, California, pays tribute to the musicians who most influenced her during her long career. She's backed by a host of crack musicians, most of whom serious blues fans will know from other recordings.

Strehli absolutely knocks it out of the park on the opening cut, her cover of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Two Steps From The Blues," with the horn section of Rob Sudduth, Johnnie Beaumont and Marvin McFadden giving this rendition the requisite wall of sound. It's one that will have the listener hitting 'repeat' over and over. Up next is a mid-tempo shuffle version of Elmore James' "Person To Person," with slide guitar intro from Mighty Mike Schermer followed by hot piano from Johnny Allair. Rounding out the for the first quarter of the album is O.V. Wright's "Ace Of Spades," an iconic soul classic, with the mix giving Strehli's vocals a richer sound. An absolute gem!

"I Love The Life I Live" from the Muddy Waters songbook is done with a slower, more lilting tempo. Kaz Kazanoff guest stars with his best Little Walter imitation on harmonica. Strehli rocks out on the up-tempo Chuck Berry classic, "You Never Can Tell," with her repeating the classic line, "... C'est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell ..." Allair is back with strong piano, a must when covering Chuck Berry songs. Then it's time to slow the tempo with a classic blues, "Gambler's Blues," done originally by Otis Rush, with Schermer getting the guitar parts down just right.

Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' For My Darling" is included because Strehli has performed it a lot over the years after hearing it on the radio as a teenager. She gives it the necessary rabid feel that is needed for any Wolf song. Back to soulful blues with Otis Clay's "Trying To Live My Life Without You," with the horn section taking a big part in this song and Lisa Leuschner Andersen adding backing vocals. Strehli takes her voice down lower and adds a little gravel for Jimmy Reed's "Take Out Some Insurance," a jangly mid-tempo blues shuffle.

Little Milton's up-tempo soul chestnut, "More And More," compels Strehli to pump more power and range into her vocals, after which she pays tribute to gospel singer Dorothy Love Coates on "I Wouldn't Mind Dying," taking us all down to the riverside, with the Sons of the Soul Revivers adding harmony vocals. Stirring, very stirring.

Closing the album is "SRV," a heartfelt tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan that Strehli recorded previously 17 years ago on Blue Highway, her last studio album until this gem. Schermer does a good job making his guitar sounds like Stevie Ray's solos, but it's Strehli's voice that carries this one.

Ace Of Blues is an essential addition to any blues library. Instead of downloading the digital files, be sure to order the CD because the included booklet is jam-packed with lots of vintage photos and Strehli's notes about each artist. Highly recommended!

--- Bill Mitchell



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