Roadhouse Album Review: Angela Strehli deals a winning hand with “Ace of Blues,” her first album in 17 years

Angela Strehli — “Ace of Blues” — Antone’s Records

It only took Angela Strehli about 17 years to follow up her last album (“Blue Highway” from 2005), but thankfully she decided that at 76, she was too young to retire from the world of music.

The result is this fine, bluesy album of songs by artists who inspired her long and impressive musical career.

Why now? Here’s how Strehli explained it in an interview with the “Texas Standard”:

My dear husband, Bob Brown, looked at me and said, shortly after my last birthday, “Look, don’t you think it is time for you to make a record? I think your fans would like to hear from you after 16 years,” or whatever it was at the time. So I didn’t have a comeback for that. And I started thinking, and I said, “Well, I don’t have any original material.” But that’s when Bob came up with the concept of tipping my hat to the people who had inspired me by doing one of their songs that was not well-known by people so that they would be hearing something fresh.”

And it’s exactly that. Fresh. Sparkling. All thoroughly enjoyable. Strehli’s vocals still work magic with the lyrics, backed by musicians who know just how to highlight those vocals.

The songs may not all be exactly well known, but they are mother’s milk to blues fans. And an excellent remembrance of the Lubbock, Texas, native’s ability to turn any song into her own.

The session opens with the fine Bobby “Blue” Bland song, “Two Steps from the Blues,” a wistful ballad, beautifully rendered. That’s followed by a swinging reading of the old R&B-type number, “Person to Person,” recorded by many, but first, I believe, by Mildred Anderson.

“Ace of Spades” follows, a crackling classic by O.V. Wright tune, with some verses added to provide a little personal history of how Strehli came to be known as “Ace” in her years at Austin’s Antone’s, the blues club that she co-founded. And whose record label has been revived for this album, and one hopes, similarly fine future efforts.

“I Love The Life I Live” is tough little philosophic blues by the great and prolific Willie Dixon, as slyly recorded by Mose Allison. “You Never Can Tell” is the festive rocker with joyous piano by Chuck Berry about a teen-age wedding (featuring one of my all-time favorite lyrics, “…the coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and Ginger Ale…”).

“Gambler’s Blues” is a stinging guitar-first take on B.B. King’s version, with a fine guitar lead-in and solo midway. Another great blues is Strehli’s version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Darling.” Then there’s her soulful take on Otis Clay’s “Trying To Live My Life Without You,” followed by a deep-throated version of Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance.” The final covers are Little Milton’s punchy “More and More,” and the rousing gospel of Dorothy Love Coates’ “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying.”

The set concludes with Strehli’s original “SRV,” a tearful tribute to the great Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose friend she became in her Austin years.

The entire album is also a fitting tribute to Angela Strehli’s contributions to and influence on the Texas blues scene during her years reigning as the queen of the scene at Antone’s. But it’s more than just memories. It’s damn good music. Like fine wine or good whiskey, it just gets better (I prefer the whiskey, neat please!).

Here’s “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying”:

Just for fun, here’s a look at Angela in her early years, with Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan:

“Ace of Blues” Track list:

Two Steps From The Blues
Person To Person
Ace Of Spades
I Love The Life I Live
You Never Can Tell
Gambler’s Blues
Howlin’ For My Darling
Trying To Live My Life Without You
Take Out Some Insurance
More And More
I Wouldn’t Mind Dying

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