Lili Añel puts her heart on her sleeve for ‘Another Place, Another Time’

Lili Añel goes all in on her next record, “Another Place, Another Time.” CREDIT: Husband Rob Oslan

Strip away the guitar, piano, occasional B3 and sax, bass, and drums in Lili Añel’s upcoming EP, and you still have a gem of a record, because of that voice.

The Philly-based Añel sings with a rawness that surpasses the music, the genre, and the assorted BS associated with the business of spreading the word. On the six-track, April 7, 2017 release (Wall-I Records), she inhabits the space of loneliness, sadness, and pure feeling.

Rarer still, she draws the listener in as she mourns the loss of loved ones, frets over wasted time, and grows ever more wistful. Her voice grows stronger and unwavering in parts — comfortable in the role of a blues crooner on a street corner right before discovery. Then that same voice is liable to break a little, scatting scattering rough shots by intention or happenstance.

Guitarist/vocalist Añel composes and plays from the heart. CREDIT: Mike Kurman

On the very raw, very palpable “I’ll Never Forget You,” her intimacy is incredible, almost uncomfortable, as she distills her voice into the pure essence of sorrow and regret, soaring on cue, then sinking low as the emotion hits her, even scatting rough but true. She pays tribute to a guitarist on this original composition, perhaps Philly’s late, great Jef Lee Johnson, a mentor she looked up to and who would pass on Jan. 28, 2013. Her vocals here are shaky, but considering the emotion conjured up by the song, understandable.

She includes a Johnson original, “Traffic Jam In A One Horse Town,” highlighting the highs and lows of her voice, Chico Huff’s deep bass placement, as well as the poetic/wry lyrics: “Wish I could fly, so high in the sky, I’d catch a ride on a chance cloud passing by, I set my sail, and head on into the wind… Traffic jam in a one-horse town, I’d like to pass, like to go around, I beep my horn but it don’t make a sound in this traffic jam in a one-horse town…”

She does it again to a greater extent on the bluesy, “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” a Blind Willie Johnson gospel cover from 1927. She cuts through the clutter with that sharp but serrated knife of a voice of hers, slicing into hidden wounds, bleeding openly. Dale Melton, who engineered and mastered the record, provides the gospel feel further on Hammond B3, fingering a clever, twisting form of logic on his end.

The opening title track, a composition she penned with sister Barbara, features a kind of Jobim-esque bossa nova. “Another Place, Another Time” is a breeze of a difference compared to the others, which tend toward a darker place, darker time. But it gives Añel a chance to show her lighter side. It also gives tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna a chance to shine his midnight on the sway of the snaky dance.

In addition to the vocals, Añel makes a huge difference in extracting emotional nuance in the instruments she touches, her acoustic guitar primarily, and percussion. Like all outstanding yet understated musicians, her touch says more than words.

Añel took care of the arrangements in all of the tracks on the co-produced recording. She, Chico Huff, Dale Melton, and drummer Jonathan Whitney collaborated on the arrangement for “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Don’t wait till April 7 to order Lili Añel’s new record. On March 10, it’ll be up on Bandcamp (physical CD and digital) for advanced sales and pre-sale with instant download of a track on iTunes.