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On her smoldering, gorgeous new self-released album Time Will Tell, folk-leaning singer Angela James suffuses many of the tracks with darkness: relationships fray, expectations fall short, lives end, and narrators struggle to manage their losses. “What if this becomes the last song I ever write?” she asks on the opener, “What If.” But as with many of these kinds of meditations on the record she finds a Zen-like solace—here she answers her own question with “We’re all and we’re nothing / And everything is unknown / But here’s to hoping we hold on.” Despite the uncertainty that consumes her lyrics, James sings with a firm determination, and she does so with a soft, honeyed beauty and a reassuring sense of calm. Those qualities are further enhanced by excellent arrangements from a terrific cast of players. Saxophonist Nick Mazzarella plays gauzy overdubbed lines to open “In Between”—which gets subtle jolts of R&B via the insistent piano stabs of Ben Boye—while Jordan Martins lays down a stinging, languid electric guitar solo on “Bad Memory,” one that adds ominous tidings to James’s words about a curdled romantic obsession. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

“Should I stay home and write songs of love for no one at all? Or should I sing out on the town and keep pushin’ stones up hills alone and wonderin’ why?” Time Will Tell, the latest record from Angela James, finds the singer and songwriter in a place of serious introspection. Across her two previous releases – debut epDown and Out and magnificent full-length Way Down Deep – she’s worn her heart on her sleeve while reflecting on all variety of love and loss. Even still, the raw honesty and focused curiosity of Time Will Tell is refreshing. Gene Wagendorf, Midwest Action

That she hasn’t reached more critical and commercial acclaim seems like a fluke, or at least something that will be rectified in the next couple of years. And thank goodness for that. Her songs are something special. “Way Down Deep” is an a cappella wonder, showcasing James’ eerie vocals. The track feels hymnlike in its execution, from the stark construction of the melodies to the slow, warm rhythms of James’ intonation. “Drink and Try Not To Cry” feels pulled out of the souls of lonely young women trying to save face and not doing so successfully. If it sounds familiar, perhaps that is because the lyricism (as equally potent and sharp as James’ affective vocals) strike a raw nerve. The Chicago Tribune

Angela James swills her misery like a pro, exposing its various hues, imploring us to join her in its strange, revelling gratification. She reminds us that there is something uniquely (and usually only briefly) satisfying about indulging in a hard bout of melancholy. Tiny Mix Tapes

Angela James sounds wholly alone on the title track of her new full-length, delivering her words atop a low roar that echoes a cold wind sweeping across a graveyard. It’s a rare moment of solitude on a gorgeous record given life by a long list of collaborators, including Justin Brown, whose sighing pedal steel amps up the sorrow on “Drink and Try Not to Cry,” where not even the wine can dull the ache in James’ shattered heart. “Top 10 Chicago Albums of 2014” Red Eye Chicago/Chicago Tribune

Tennessee-bred, Chicago-based singer Angela James has made a huge leap with her new self-released album, Way Down Deep. Her singing has always been gorgeous and assured—she’s like a sturdier, less vulnerable-sounding Patsy Cline—but now her lovely, rustic melodies are enhanced by excellent arrangements played by an impressive band. Though James’s debut, the 2012 EP Down and Out, felt undercooked and perfunctory (her amazing voice notwithstanding), on the new record everything pulls together beautifully. On “Drink and Try Not to Cry,” a story about drowning one’s sorrows, the contrast between Jason Stein’s phlegmy bass clarinet and Justin Brown’s fluid pedal steel feels like the sunrise battling a hangover; the soaring, hopeful chorus of “Lost and Found,” which sounds like it could’ve been written by James Mercer of the Shins, pierces its melancholy meditation on heartbreak like a ray of light. James is joined here by eight of the players from the record, including opening act Ben Boye.  Peter Margasak, the Chicago Reader

Southern gothic from America’s heartland, Chicago-based singer/songwriterAngela James mingles droning guitars, jazz and country instrumentation to arrive at a distinctly haunting Americana sound, replete with wistful and often brutal imagery that fills out her debut album, Way Down Deep. Bucket Full of Nails

Chicago singer-songwriter Angela James bridges the gap between accessible folk-rock (think Shawn Colvin or Roseanne Cash) and the avant garde Americana pioneered by Lambchop and The Handsome Family on her fine debut LP Way Down Deep. The album opens with “Halo,” a breathtaking cut that pits James’s powerful vocals against a lone, jazzy guitar. The following track, “Drink and Try Not to Cry,” is just as strong and, like “Halo,” features evocative lyrics. Other LP highlights (and they are plentiful) include the haunting “Lost and Found,” the stunning acapella title track, the torch and twang slow burner “Can’t Go Home” (which will appeal to fans of Patsy Cline and The Cowboy Junkies) and album-closer “Lightning Strikes.” Radio One Chicago

Singer Angela James is an old soul with a honey-tinged voice that knows all too much about heartbreak. Backed by low-and-slow steel guitars, James’ soft, angelic vocals breezily cut down to the core, unveiling deep sadness and maybe even a little bit of hope tucked away in some darkened corner.”
LoudLoopPress

“ …..she incorporates a unique twist of her own that might even be considered “cool”—especially if you’re from Chicago and you like your country music infused with the seemingly impossible combination of experimental jazz. As such, it features those typically bright steel guitars and the mournful lyrics of classic honky-tonk country, but it’s also backed with lush arrangements of gently brushed drums and a surprising electricity.”
Gapers Block, “Preview: Angela James’ Country Music Has a Chicago Coolness”

“The title suggests despondency, but Angela James’s debut EP, Down and Out, transcends cry-in-your-beer country. In her hands, Americana is something best delivered with care, slowed to a crawl and unspooled gently, yielding dusty, delicate passages that put you in a sleepy honky-tonk… Far from down and out, these songs suggest an artist on the up and up.”
-Arief Sless-Kitain -Time Out Chicago

“Tennessee-born belter Angela James has a high and lonesome sound, and her songs are inhabited by a range of shattered characters desperately trying to pick up the pieces and begin anew. ‘Your Broken Heart,’ for one, plays like the tear-stained flipside to the Hank Williams classic ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart.'”
Red Eye, “15 Chicago Artists to Watch in ’13”

“Angela James is one of those rare songbirds who combines the rich, deep voices of classic country artists like Patsy Cline and Rosanne Cash with the narrative sensibility of more modern female troubadours like Neko Case and Cat Power in a signature style that is all her own. Traditional and hip, artful and avant-garde, bridging the past and the future, she speaks through generations of music and musicians in a powerful way.”
-Lee Shook, Host of the Audiovore, Birmingham Mountain Radio

“James’ music looks to the past but isn’t stuck there. From her stories of love and redemption to the pedal steel, her music is firmly planted in the present. Like other Chicagoans such as Robbie Fulks, Janet Beveridge Bean, and Lawrence Peters, Angela James is helping to keep that flame of country music alive and well in a city with deep country music roots.”
Tony Sarabia, Chicago Public Radio

 

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