By Karen Lloyd
Artist: Danny Antonelli
Album: Evil Eye
Vinyl collector’s item: 8 tracks
Streaming: 13 tracks (8 album tracks + 5 Bonus tracks)
Featuring: Matthias Strass, Freddy Schlender, Christian Sass, Andy Nock, Peter Pollmann, Ulrike Esser, Julius Esser
Released by: ATMAN LC 01692
Streaming version: UPC/EAN 198000578039
The Evil Eye vinyl album opens with Notes From Underground, a sleazy story about drugs and crime, with biting guitar lines laid down by Matthias Strass. It’s a blues song that comes really close to the razor cutting edge of metal music, but the story keeps it firmly in the blues genre.
Blessed with a warm, fluid voice that is at home with talking the blues, Antonelli found his ideal backing musicians when he connected with the four featured guitarists and Peter Pollmann. Their technical excellence, wide range and expert backing are all on display in Evil Eye.
All of the tracks on the album are self-written. The inspiration obviously comes directly from Danny’s life and from the blues artists he grew up with during his life in the United States. The overall ambiance of the album is darkness with irony and humor thrown in, you might say like storm clouds overhead, but all of them with a shimmering silver lining that let’s you hope for better times after the clouds pass. The album has a raw nerve blues vibe throughout.
The album was recorded during the pandemic year, so the musicians mostly had to play from home. The live track Lookin’ For Someone was recorded at Peter Pollmann’s art atelier, with Ulrike Esser and Julius Esser contributing. On most of the songs, Peter Pollmann is on backing vocals. Andy Nock contributes backing vocals on the songs where he is also featured as guitarist.
Highlights abound, but the bouncing Lonely Man – with Christian Sass providing the guitars – could make anyone want to get up and dance, while Beware of the Evil Eye – with Andy Nock’s subtle almost jazzy arrangement – is an object lesson in how to meld mystery and superstition into a dark tapestry of warning. Antonelli’s vocals on Gone With The Wind – with Freddy Schlender’s virtuoso performance on guitar – is a good example of his Sprechgesang style of delivery. Sprechgesang is an expressionist vocal technique between singing and speaking and Antonelli uses it to enhance his particular art of storytelling.
Evil Eye is a superb release and a fitting tribute to the blues which has been carried lovingly forward by so many fine artists everywhere. Magnificent stuff.
An Interview with Danny Antonelli
By Karen Lloyd
Tell me about what inspired you to write a blues album?
My mother had a great collection of jazz records, with people like Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and of course Louis Armstrong, and through all of those voices I could hear the roots that the music came from. Later, when I went to university in Durban, South Africa, the student union had a vinyl record of John Lee Hooker. I must have played that record at least a hundred times. There he was, the man, the guitar, him alone, with his foot keeping time on the floor, and he was telling stories. Most of the stories were not happy-ending stories. And being an introverted kid, I felt I understood him and he understood me.
Was that in the 60s or 70s?
Of course it was the era when the British bands broke through into the world of popular music, so I was getting blues and rock and roll from them as well, even though they were processing it through their own life experiences, mostly growing up in working class Britain. So though they slicked up the sound a bit and added youthful enthusiasm, they were able to bring the message across.
Later, when I got into the Chess recording artists, especially Willy Dixon and Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley, and all those other wonderful singers and players, I was able to understand the superstitions that suffused so many of the songs. I was born from an Italian mother and an American father. Superstition is a part of life from both of those cultures. So I guess the title of the album, Evil Eye, comes from the Italian side of the darkness, but there are plenty of superstitions from my father’s side too because he came from West Virginia, near the Ohio and Kentucky border, in moonshine country, and good luck and bad luck were real to those people. Unfortunately for most of the people living there – still today – bad luck is the norm.
What have you learned about the blues?
You don’t learn about the blues. You experience the blues. It’s in a song and it has an emotional impact. Maybe you learn from the emotions that the song pushes around inside you, maybe you don’t. But in any case, you feel the lightning strike and you know when a spell has been cast and you’re glad when you wake up from the dream, especially when you are bathed in sweat, soaking wet, and you are happy when the song is finished and you have been able to express your pain and worry and the reason for your depression. Getting it out there is the therapy you need for your soul, and if it works for you then maybe it will also work for some of the people listening to you deliver the news. John Lee Hooker did it for me. He delivered his news and I understood what he was talking about. I felt it. That’s all there is to it.
What was most surprising to you about making this record?
How helpful and enthusiastic the guitarists were who brought this record to life. All four of them are incredible musicians. Matthias Strass and Freddy Schlender are top-notch professionals working in musical theater and in various bands, and they heard the songs I offered, chose one each and really got into the music and delivered fantastic guitar tracks. And they are really nice guys as well. I’ve worked on other projects with them, mostly country music stuff, and you can always count on them to deliver their best, no prima donna bullshit. Solid friendly guys.
Christian Sass has played in blues bands all his life. He feels the music completely. He knows just how to get to the core of the beat, the root of the riff, and delivers the correct feeling every time. He’s the guy you want with you on stage because you know his rhythms, his riffs, his solos are going to fit perfectly into the weave of the song.
Andy Nock. What can I say about him? He’s been a friend of mine for more than 20 years. We met while he was still living in Hamburg and we played together on various projects. I understand the songs he writes. He understands mine. We give each other the most helpful criticism we can. And neither one of us is offended if the advice isn’t taken. But mostly it is taken. That way we help each other get better as songwriters. Andy is an exceptionally skilled musician. He has played all kinds of music, but the blues has always been woven into his being. He gets it. He gets me. We get each other. What could be better than that?
And Peter Pollmann? I understand he helped you produce the album.
Peter and I worked together in the 80s when he was the singer for First Affair. Then in 1989 we recorded a track – Deutschland, Deutschland – that was the inspiration for a number one hit by the German band Fantastischen Vier. Our best collaboration was when we performed as O Zone, a trio, with Ulrike Esser who plays cello and violin on the Evil Eye album. By the way, Peter’s son Julius also plays percussion on the album, so the generational leap is there as well.
Peter graduated from art school and was extremely helpful in the design of the album cover. His ears are excellent too, so he was able to listen to the mix of each song and give his input. Of course his background singing on the album gives it that little extra that makes each song complete.
There is a streaming version as well as the limited edition vinyl record, is that right?
Yes. Peter and I were determined to make a high quality vinyl record that could then become a collector’s item for people who love actual physical records and who love the blues. We picked out the 8 tracks that would fit within the time limits of the vinyl record and ZIS, the record pressing company, also provides download cards for all the songs on the record. So you can either play the vinyl on your record player or save the disk and download the 8 tracks for play on your phone or whatever other medium you use to listen to music. By the way, there is an insert in the vinyl record with all the lyrics and pictures of the musicians who made the dream a reality.
Obviously there also had to be a streaming version so that a wider audience can enjoy the music as well, so we crafted together 5 Bonus Tracks. That makes 13 tracks for the streaming version – magic and superstition again! Of course the streaming version is available on all the platforms you can think of, Spotify, Apple Music, TikTok, Deezer, Amazon, all the usual and unusual suspects.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
You mean for the album or for my life?
For the album.
The song By The Time I Get To Heaven is special because it’s only me with Peter backing me up. He’s a real singer, so it makes those moments in the song when he’s there very special. Also, the song itself is special because it gets to the heart of my world view. Listen to the lyrics. I’d love to hear a real soul choir do the song. That would be an experience!
Thank you for talking with me.