Album review: ANGEL – The Casablanca Years

Caroline International [Release date 14.09.18]

Formed in Washington DC in the mid 70s, Angel were allegedly discovered playing in a nightclub by bassist Gene Simmons, and subsequently signed Kiss’ then label Casablanca. A big lush sound and the band dressed in white, they stood out in more ways than one. And their label has rotational symmetry too – it reads the same upside down.

The originally line-up comprised vocalist Frank DiMino, guitarist Punky Meadows, bassist Mickie Jones, drummer Barry Brandt and keyboard player Gregg Giuffria. The original eponymous debut had some progressive roots too.

The mix of acoustic and electric guitars with layered keyboards and even occasional flute make for a big sound, and the big vocals have range and power that overlay the strings well.

The second (and better known) album ‘Helluva Band’ was even bigger, and although a little more mainstream it featured pianist Gregg in a bigger role, at times a nod to Keith Emerson in his playing. Some of the tracks are quite gentle, but aren’t without their charm, and there’s some blistering guitar work too.

Third album ‘On Earth As It Is In Heaven’ was the last to feature bassist Jones. The album was produced by the legendary Eddie Kramer. The album kicks off much heavier, it’s solid and there’s some great tracks. Crunchy at times, commercial at others.

1978’s ‘White Hot’, one of the band’s most mainstream, commercial and successful outputs, featured new bassist Felix Robinson. The track ‘Ain’t Gonna Eat My Heart Out Any More’ was a minor hit, very radio friendly. Compare this and the debut and they’re a mile apart, but listen to the albums in order and the journey seems obvious.

By 1979 and ‘Sinful’, their fifth (and final, before reformations) studio album, was their poppiest yet, but still had some serious rock’n’roll moments. Going a similar way to Kiss at the time. The piano on ‘LA Lady’ is almost American FM radio/AOR meets southern rock.

The double album ‘Live Without A Net’ (on one CD), the band hoped would do for them as Alive had done for Kiss. It actually led to their breakup. A shame. It’s a great album that had a solid setlist from across the career. Despite the move from prog/glam to mainstream hard rock, things never worked out for Angel as the live set shows.

The band’s catalogue has been compiled and reissued several times. And by one label who have done things piecemeal. This package, however, compiles the complete works. A seventh disc of rarities, a booklet full of indepth notes and pictures, all in decent box – the music and packaging are both excellent and this whole thing demands a place in any record collection. It’s how things should be done. ****1/2

Review by Joe Geesin

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