Behind the Angels of Libra are musicians who have been active in Hamburg’s soul and music scene for many years and have caused a stir with numerous other projects, such as the great Hamburg Spinners – a good foundation for another great soul album from the Hanseatic city. The project was born in a Danish holiday home, where producer and guitarist Dennis Rux, keyboardist Chris Haertel, bassist David Nesselhauf and drummer Lucas Kochbeck spent two weeks together writing instrumental songs and recording them on a 1980 TASCAM 388 8-track tape recorder.
The original idea was to create a kind of soul revue on record with different singers. While searching for suitable voices, Rux remembered Nathan Johnston from a session at Hamburg’s Clouds Hill Studios, where both had once worked on their own projects, and asked him if he would like to sing on a track. He saw it as a special challenge to his songwriting skills, as there were no instructions on lyrics or melody and it gave him complete freedom. A few months later he sent a demo of the new track – “Angel of Libra”. After hearing the track, the band members were so excited that they even decided to name themselves after it and invited the singer to record a whole album, which eventually resulted in Dennis Rux’s Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Studios – shortly before the building that housed it fell victim to a huge explosion. Fortunately, the recorded tapes survived this.
The songs deal with themes around courage and perseverance when faced with personal struggles and self-doubt. Johnston reveals his experiences as a musician and artist and the challenges that come with coming of age in this new age of the arts, where everyone wants to taste the glory and it often feels like authenticity and integrity are increasingly pushed aside in favour of material things. The underlying theme of Angel of Libra is hope – it’s based on the story of the Archangel Joseph, who is supposed to guide you when you feel confused or a little lost. And not by telling you exactly how to do it, but by helping you solve problems through self-reflection.
Opener “Curtis”, whose title is also a tribute to the influence of Curtis Mayfield, is about significant life choices and what it means to be an artist. While “All Your Love” and “The Nine Angels Choirs” deal with classic themes of love, lust and passion, Johnston wonders in “In A Different World” what it would be like to be in the shoes of others who have had a harder time in life: “What would it be like, if I’d never heard the blues?” – an ode to appreciating the life you have. “Curtis (Reprise)” revisits the theme of the first song, commenting on it from another angle as the band play themselves into a gripping groove that could be the soundtrack to a cinematic car chase.
The second side of the record begins with the aforementioned “Angel of Libra”, another cinematic song about the fear of facing the future and having to leave your comfort zone when some things and relationships change. “Modern Times” continues about the disillusions of society and what honesty actually means. The song was inspired vocally and lyrically by the death of Charles Bradley and is also a tribute to his work and life. Less introspective, however, is the next track, “Jericho”, in which Johnston sends us admonishingly down the dark path of conspiracy theories and fake news by using the biblical story of the fall of the walls of Jericho as a metaphor for just that.
“Icarus”, the only remaining instrumental on the album, mixes groovy upbeat with a dark, haunting mood through the sound of an old Philicorda organ. The last song “Euphoria” on the one hand deals with the normalisation of A-drugs among young people and what that can do to them in a time when supposed “cool kids” are becoming “influencers” more than ever. Ultimately, however, it’s all about remaining personally strong and with integrity, because it’s up to everyone to determine their own path.
For their live shows, Angels of Libra are now reviving their original idea of the soul revue and presenting gripping sets with a 10-piece band and various guest singers. A tour for 2023 is being planned.
Photo by Christopher Lau