Stretching the boundaries of Americana.
This third full-length solo album from Adam Douglas stretches even Americana’s pliable genre boundaries. Wrapped in a big band sound ‘Better Angels’ takes in classic soul, blues, rock, R&B, jazz and gospel, to each of which Douglas matches his expressive vocals. Free of any genre constraint ‘Better Angels’ fosters a deep sense of liberation and downright joy.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, via Chicago and Minneapolis Douglas now lives in Norway, his home for over a decade, where he has become a big name. This journey perhaps contributed to his musical freedom. Oklahoma is a musical crossroads (fifty years ago it was considered a jazz hub), add blues and then go somewhere unencumbered by any Americana influences and the scope of Douglas’s repertoire becomes clearer.
Douglas sees ‘Better Angels’ as “maturing into myself” As he approached 40 he has thought hard to define his sound and musical style. He describes the result of this midlife analysis only as “Adam”.
‘Joyous We’ll Be’ doubles as opener and a promise. A distant bluesy slide gives way to rich, horn drenched soul and gospel, above which Douglas towers vocally. A hymn of release both sonically and lyrically, “joyous we’ll be, hands high – in harmony”, Douglas meets his promise.
Douglas dedicated ‘Build A Fire’ to his wife. Through his imagery he says that for a relationship to flourish both sides have to keep that fire burning. An edgy, almost 1970s soul sound, layers of keys, horns and slide fuels those flames. By looking back Douglas faces the future in ‘Change My Mind’. A reflective tempo deepens his muse that expands into a massive orchestral sweep. Equally swiftly this tide ebbs to reveal the sparkling clarity of his unaccompanied voice.
The driving blues-rock of ‘A Whistle to Blow’ replaces the croon for a growl between duelling guitars and menacing sax. A softer ‘Both Ways’ tilts towards country while ‘Just A Friend’ is smoky late night jazz. The album wraps up with what all this self-questioning has led to, ‘Lucky Charm’. Douglas departs as singer/songwriter, “And my restless mind/ is at ease/ with my lucky charm”.
Adam Douglas admits to shyness, claiming that the bigger the band breathing down his neck the better he performs. The layers of sound throughout ‘Better Angels’ bears that out. The pandemic put paid to his intention of recording the album back in the US but instead he showed what he and the highly talented local musicians could achieve. Perhaps the resulting sense of freedom makes ‘Better Angels’ an album for the end of lockdown?