Chicago guitarist Melody Angel sings blues-rock that celebrates life and demands justice

Chicago guitarist and vocalist Melody Angel combines fiery celebrations of life with equally fearless and uncompromising demands for social justice. Her style of blues-rock mixes genres and influences as freely and as pointedly as her lyrics assault the boundaries between the personal and the political. Angel counts Hendrix and Prince among her idols, and although she’s less flashy, her harmonic sense is dazzlingly sophisticated. She also writes music that reflects and enhances the emotional atmospheres of her lyrics: On “In This America,” her mournful, seething ode to young Black men killed by police, she lays carefully constructed leads over folk-like strummed accompaniment. “In the Fire,” from her 2017 release of the same name, uses Celtic-sounding violin to create an almost pastoral setting, which the song’s story line renders ironic: a young girl faces down her mother’s abuser and then incinerates the scene of the crime, an image that’s equally searing whether the fire is real or metaphorical. Angel explodes ferociously on “Outside Our Radius,” “American Dream,” and “Nobody Gets Away,” where power chords propel leads that circle, probe, home in, and hit their marks with unerring accuracy.

Wed Foxy, released this spring, Angel’s protagonists continue to demand respect and satisfaction, but they also celebrate life by embracing the hard-bitten irony of the blues. “Bad Bad Seed” portrays a female protagonist determined to salve a broken heart by cruising for a one-night stand, claiming ownership of a scenario traditionally portrayed as demeaning if not dangerous for women—she could be the same partier in the turbocharged “Dance With Me,” which features some of Angel’s fleetest, most aggressive playing yet. The title song frames sexiness and fly-girl sass as mechanisms of empowerment and insists that this empowerment be uncompromising (“You must defend your temple with a quick mind / ‘Cause you’re gonna be beautiful till the day you die”). In the ironically singsong “Free,” Angel revisits a theme she’s addressed in the past—the soul-killing claustrophobia of feeling trapped in a prisonlike fishbowl by systemic racism.

The music on Foxy shows off Angel’s favorite influences, including Chicago blues (the raw rock remake of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful”), old-school funk and R&B (the disco-tinged “Too Much”), Latin-flavored pop-folk (the anguished, yoked-by-yearning anthem “Waltz of Love”), and a synth-embellished fusion of pop and hip-hop (“Money”). Through it all, bluesy emotional honesty and rock ‘n’ roll fire remain her trademarks.

Melody Angel Band Sat 8/6, 9 PM, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, $20, 21+

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