Angie Wells • Truth Be Told

Angie Wells • Truth Be Told“Oof.” That’s my one-word review of Angie Wells’ second album. What does it mean? Why, all manner of things… Oh, you want me to elaborate? But I’m supposed to knock off for Christmas at five and there’s a lot to unpack… Okay, okay—one last critique for 2023.

Wells is a successful Hollywood makeup artist with two Emmy nominations under her brush belt—not the most pertinent detail, perhaps, but that’s on top of being a singer-songwriter winning plaudits from jazz writers all over the US and Europe. Doubly impressive, don’t you think? Truth Be Told is her second album, after 2017’s Love and Mischief—which was dubbed “terrific,” “beautiful” and “burn-the-barn smoldering” by critics.

Explore Upbeat Records

Far from being a simple collection of old standards, Truth Be Told is a rollercoaster ride through the emotional landscape of modern life in a car built from jazz, blues, and soul—some classic, and some new. It’s not uncommon for an album to make me smile, laugh, clap, cheer, or dance with joy, but I can’t remember the last time one brought out such a range of feelings, beyond simple delight. There have been a couple that made me wince, but I’m struggling to remember another one that made me well up with grief. Truth Be Told managed that three times: once with “Where the Livin’ is Good,” once during “Nick of Time,” and again with the title track.

The first of these is a Latin-tinged number with a bait-and-switch: Wells begins describing the “lovely neighborhood” where her song’s subject lives, then zooms in on her “blue fabric home in the shape of a mound”—revealing that the swinging, minor-key toe-tapper is in fact a ballad about homelessness. “Nick of Time” (made famous by Bonnie Raitt) has smooth, Bob James vibes—think “Angela,” the iconic theme from Taxi—but its lyrical content concerns aging, sub-par relationships, and the mortality of one’s parents. “Life gets mighty precious / when there’s less of it to waste,” as the tune points out. Memento mori…

Having recently lost my Dad to COVID, this one hit me the hardest—but the darkest track in this sometimes melancholy collection is undoubtedly “Truth Be Told,” an acapella piece reminiscent of a cotton field work song which opens thusly: “Brother George died with a knee on his neck / Walter was running away when he was shot in the back / Tamir only had a toy gun in his hand / Then there’s the mystery of our sister Miss Bland.” Penned during the pandemic, this prospective BLM anthem is an unashamedly political protest song with a plain message: “Get out and vote, don’t just sit and hope / Don’t let them die in vain.”

UpBeat Records

Also featured is a medley in which Wells begins Jon Hendricks’ “Moanin’,” then transitions smoothly into Nina Simone’s “Work Song.” With these hauntingly beautiful tunes, Wells has revived the rare form of writing or performing heartwrenching, socially aware jazz—of which Simone is undoubtedly queen. They set Truth Be Told apart from most contemporary releases as an important artistic journey, rather than a mere pleasure cruise. That said, it isn’t all darkness and doom: there’s a generous dollop of sauce with this hefty helping of sadness.

I refer to the sexier offerings on this buffet of emotions, namely “Do I Move You” (another Simone track) and “Talkin’ All Under My Clothes,” a Wells original. I’ll save your blushes by not delving too deep, but both these bluesy numbers are apt to get steam rising from your collar. And then there are the upbeat swing numbers like “There’s Always Time for Lovin’” (another original) and “Accentuate the Positive,” which is transformed into a sax-heavy groove fest worthy of a 1980s Sesame Street episode.

The album’s closer is a take on the old hymn “I’ve Got A Feeling,” which rounds things off on an optimistic note with its playfully swinging percussion and swelling gospel harmonies. At only 96 seconds it’s the smallest morsel of a palette cleanser—especially after serving up such rich food for thought—a twinkling light of hope in an ocean of conflicting emotions. But don’t think for a second that Truth Be Told is a downer: it’s a tremendous, passionate work which forces the listener to think, feel and move in time with the music. “It was divine to cry / To songs so blue,” as Wells sings on “I Wish I’d Met You.” Get it at angiewellsmusic.com and find out for yourself.

Truth Be Told
Angie Wells
angiewellsmusic.com

Dave Doyle is a swing dancer, dance teacher, and journalist based in Gloucestershire, England. Write him at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DaveDoyleComms.

Or look at our Subscription Options.