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Angel Olsen

Not quite cradled under the kooky cauldron of Appalachian mistress JOSEPHINE FOSTER or fellow freak-folk artist MARISSA NADLER, the celestial and chameleonic campfire-country singer-songwriter ANGEL OLSEN has a closer connection to alt-rock, having been plugged-in since signing to Jagjaguwar Records (home to BON IVER et al). Recalling a demure PATSY CLINE or a dead-pan MARIA McKEE in their heyday (at times she could almost mimic COHEN), the Angel of the South looked a sure-fire bet to reach her potential after third album cross-pollenated the transatlantic Top 50s in September 2016.
Born January 27, 1987, St. Louis, Missouri, and raised by her ageing foster parents, there was indeed method to her madness in finding a home for her emotive singing voice (and electric guitar strumming). Branching out from the coffee houses of Chicago, Illinois, where she’d moved to after graduation, her multifarious musical interests lay between punk rock, Christian rock and indie-folk. There was work for her as harmony singer under the wing of EMMETT KELLY and his CAIRO GANG combo, whilst the equally impressed BONNIE PRINCE BILLY called upon her all-embracing voice to complement the collaborative `The Wonder Show Of The World’ (2010); and for that matter the `Wolfroy Goes To Town’ follow-up.
Her debut C-24 cassette-EP, `Strange Cacti’, surfaced that same year, although most fans of her reverberating vibrato vocals would wait some time before Bathetic Records issued it on vinyl; still in a limited-edition format. Echo-y, but not exactly resonating from any Laurel Canyon depot, OLSEN could be forgiven for using this episode to lube her larynx; `Tiniest Lights’ and the yodelling `Creator, Destroyer’, providing evidence that she could indeed chant.
Her cassette-only EP, `Lady Of The Waterpark’, saw covers of `My Last Date (With You)’ (made famous by SKEETER DAVIS), `I Couldn’t Wait Forever’ (DOLLY PARTON), `You Don’t Know’ (HELEN SHAPIRO), `Halfway To Paradise’ (SANDY POSEY), `Cry Baby’ (GLORIA JONES) and the trad `B.I.T.C.O.M.T.L.H.’ (Patty Waters), but her wandering spirit rested easier on her own self-penned dirges.
2012’s ambiguously-titled full-length debut, HALF WAY HOME {*7}, introduced the song `Acrobat’ to an unsuspecting public, a seminal song that recalled JANIS IAN’s `At Seventeen’ as if sung by JOANNA NEWSOM – yes… it was that good! Coming across as an isolated widow-woman who’s lost her third husband to tuberculosis, one could almost touch her pain in the melancholy of `Always Half Strange’, `Safe In The Womb’, `The Sky Opened Up’ and `Tiniest Seed’.
On the back of a credited collaboration on Tim Kinsella’s vinyl-only LP, `Sings The Songs Of Marvin Tate By LeRoy Bach’ (a meeting of CAP’N JAZZ and WILCO affiliates), OLSEN was ready to explore further pop-rock possibilities with Jagjaguwar Records.
Augmented by bassist Stewart Bronaugh and drummer Josh Jaeger, the John Congleton-produced BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS (2014) {*8} was her breakthrough record, having entered both the US and UK Top 75s. She’d stepped up to the plate and had won over a surplus of fans from all walks of life. Almost abandoning her two-dimensional indie-folk approach for that of something akin to a countri-fied PJ HARVEY, COHEN or even ORBISON (at least on the respective `Forgiven / Forgotten’ and `White Fire’ tracks), the soaring and autumnal Angel was finding her feet. As the album developed by way of er… plaintive pieces such as opening salvo `Unfucktheworld’ and `Lights Out’, the OLSEN factor was on course; further cover versions popped up as extras on bonus CD versions and singles, namely HOYT AXTON’s `Endless Road’, ROKY ERICKSON’s `For You’ and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’s `Tougher Than The Rest’.
Spared not one iota of canny promotion by her label Jagjaguwar to web-supermarket Spotify, her infectious `Shut Up Kiss Me’ (spawned from 2016’s MY WOMAN {*8}) was a far cry from her folk-y days of old. There was a tendency to confront her “love” demons in songs such as `Intern’, `Not Gonna Kill You’ and the wispy, DUSTY-meets-SANDIE-meets-CHRISSIE-like `Sister’ and `Never Be Mine’, and all seemed a million country miles from her debut from only three years back. One can almost dream away one’s blues in soft-shoe 60s soundtrack-patterned motifs of anchored triumvirate `Those Were The Days’, `Woman’ and `Pops’ – all ‘n’all donning her cap to BACHARACH or GOFFIN & KING. A few weeks on, Angel and WILL OLDHAM were part of the 6-piece that made up CHIVALROUS AMOEKONS and their album, `Fanatic Voyage’.
Bypassing her odds ‘n’ ends album, “Phases” (2017), OLSEN was next up for discussion on 2019’s ALL MIRRORS {*8}. The record was co-produced by John Congleton, and like its predecessor hovered just outside the Top 50 (but within the UK Top 30). Relative newcomer to songwriting, Ben Babbitt, would contribute on several songs, including the dramatic opening salvo, `Lark’, whilst a 14-piece orchestra arranged by Jherek Bischoff accompanied the haunting and emotive vocals of our Angel. If director David Lynch ever required an artist to re-visit a “Blue Velvet” re-make, then he would do no wrong by hiring the symphonic pop of OLSEN, who excelled on the shimmering `Spring’, `Tonight’, `Summer’ and the sombre `Endgame’
© MC Strong/MCS Sep2016-Oct2019

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