Finding her inner soul: Susan Angeletti makes the record she always wanted to do

  • Susan Angeletti in the studio with backing vocalist Donna-Lee De Prille. She calls De Prille and the other Valley musicians on her new CD “real pros.” Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • Angeletti recording “Why Don’t You Do Right” with John Sheldon in Shoe String Studio in Belchertown. Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • Pianist Kevin Bias adds his touch to Angeletti’s new CD, “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • Angeletti with engineer Mark Cohen at Shoe String Studio in Belchertown. Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • John Sheldon, who’s played with Angeletti many times over the years and produced her first album, handles all guitars on “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • Valley drummer Billy Arnold Sr., who’s worked with Wilson Pickett, Max Roach and the Young@Heart Chorus, does his part on Angeletti’s new record. Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • Susan Angeletti, who’s toured with Johnny Winter and opened for artists such as B.B. King and Wilson Pickett, says she’s always wanted to make a soul record. Image courtesy of Susan Angeletti

  • Susan Angeletti’s new record, “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” was recorded over the last few years in Belchertown and Shutesbury.

  • Part of the team: Guitarist John Sheldon, Angeletti, drummer Billy Arnold Sr. and bassist Mike Bliss take a moment in the studio. Photo courtesy Susan Angeletti

Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2020

Singer Susan Angeletti jokes that she earned a reputation as “a real belter” during her many years of performing in the Valley and other parts of the Northeast. From rock to blues to R&B to soul, and whether singing covers or her own tunes, Angeletti’s powerful vocals could fill any performance space.

But Angeletti says she always wanted to make what she calls “an old-school soul record,” on which she could tackle some songs that meant a lot to her emotionally and which called for a more varied vocal approach.

In a project she calls “a real labor of love,” Angeletti, who moved to Florida a few years ago, has done what she set out to do. “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” recorded in the Valley intermittently over the past four years, features tunes made famous by Smokey Robinson, Etta James, Doris Troy, Ella Fitzgerald and others.

“My whole life, I wanted to make a soul record,” Angeletti said in a recent phone call from her home in South Florida. “And I wanted to do songs I’m drawn to, that uplift me…. Some I’ve performed before, others I hadn’t, but they’d always moved me when I heard them.”

She’s also made a CD with a who’s who of talented players from the Valley, such as guitarist John Sheldon, drummer Billy Arnold Sr., pianist Kevin Bias, saxophonist Joe Nerny and others. The songs were first recorded at Shoe String Studio in Belchertown, with additional recording and mixing done by engineer Norman Blain in Shutesbury.

It’s a full-bodied, rich-sounding disc with backing vocals and harmonies supplied by area singers Donna Lee De Prille and Jami-d. Yet the backing tracks never overwhelm Angeletti’s vocals, which she said occasionally got overshadowed by the production on her previous albums, though that only came to her mind in retrospect.

“I did want to put more emphasis this time on making the vocals and the harmonies stand out,” she said. She talked about that with Sheldon, who produced her first album, the rocking “Things You Throw Away,” and often gigged with her in the Valley and wrote some songs she recorded. “I asked John if he could give me some sweeter tones this time and of course he did because he can play anything.”

While the focus of the six-song CD is on soul and blues-flavored songs from the the 1960s and 1970s, one standout track is “Why Don’t You Do Right,” a 1930s-era jazz/blues song recorded by Lil Green and Peggy Lee in the 1940s, then Ella Fitzgerald in the 1950s. The melancholy tune, with lyrics about a man doing a woman wrong, gets a stripped-down treatment here with just Angeletti’s vocals and a solo, fingerstyle electric guitar part by Sheldon.

“You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Tracks of My Tears,” both by Smokey Robinson, get the Motown approach here, with backing vocals, horns, taut guitar and resonant piano; the first track also has a long fadeout with Angeletti lending the song lots of soul. But perhaps the strongest track on the album is “Damn Your Eyes,” first recorded by Etta James in 1988 and written by Steve Bogard and Barbara Wyrick.

It’s a song, Angeletti says, that’s “got more doing on than you realize — there’s some real tough emotion there,” a reference to the singer’s lament that she can’t break away from a man who mistreats her (“You keep deliberately deceivin’ me / Makin’ me see what I want to see / Damn your eyes”). Angeletti really cuts loose on the vocals, and Sheldon matches her with some fiery riffs on guitar.

Angeletti, a graduate of Hampshire Regional High School, has shared stages over the years with many noted artists: B.B. King, Wilson Pickett, George Thorogood, Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, Shemekia Copeland, and more. She also toured with bluesman Johnny Winter on tours that hit The Fillmore West in San Francisco, The House of Blues in Las Vegas and other clubs.

Music critics have praised the power and quality of her voice. Record producer and former Virgin Records executive John Wooler says that on her new CD, “Her technically perfect voice mixed with a Southern soul feel freshens up R’n’B classics like ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me,’ a standout title on this album.”

Angeletti moved to Florida about four years ago, in part to get away from New England winters and to investigate a new musical scene. “I felt I’d taken things as far as I could up here,” she said, though she also thought a warmer climate might help her deal with some lingering medical problems from a car accident about 12 years ago, when a drunk driver smashed into her car in Easthampton.

She’s continued to visit the Valley, though, to see family, play some gigs, and now to finish her album; she jokes that it got done just under the pandemic wire, with the last work completed in January, though she had hoped to record a few more songs. A longtime voice teacher, she says she wanted to work with the musicians here she’d gotten close to over the years and who “are just real pros.”

Like musicians everywhere, she’s been hurt by the closure of clubs because of the pandemic and is looking forward to being able to perform again with her band in Florida. “It’s a scary time. All we can do is ride it out and hope it gets better at some point.”

More information about Angeletti is available at susanangeletti.net and facebook.com/susan.angeletti.9

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.