You have to travel a little farther to hear the best pop music being made today. One rewarding journey would take you out to the ill-defined border where country, roots rock, and folk music meet. There you might encounter Patty Griffin, Kings Of Leon, Warren Zanes, Peter Wolf, or the exquisite Kim Richey. And if you’re fortunate enough to make their acquaintance, they’ll introduce you to a musician who helps them sound as good as they do. They’ll introduce you to Angelo, a valued co-writer, producer, and friend.
He was born Angelo Petraglia May 5, 1954 in the Bronx and grew up in Pelham, NY. His father was a janitor and his mother was a bookkeeper. By the time he’d reached the third grade, he was playing guitar, inspired, he fondly recalls, by Ricky Nelson’s brief but rocking promotional appearances at the end of Ozzie and Harriet. While studying visual art at New England College, Angelo met long-time friend and drummer Billy Beard and put together the first in a string of bands that reached a sort of roots rock apotheosis with the Boston-based Immortals in the early 1990s.
Through his publishing deal with the Immortals, Angelo had made some Nashville connections, so he came down for a month-long visit. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I wrote like 15 songs with people in four weeks. Boston is a great music town, but the music community here was really refreshing to me.” Attracted by the hometown feeling and the inspiration of other songwriters and musicians, he sold everything he had in Boston and moved to Nashville in April 1993 with two guitars and a backpack. It took four months of knocking on doors and writing to land a deal.
One fortuitous evening, Angelo was introduced by a friend to an executive from Polygram Music. “I thought he was just another writer,” Angelo recalls with a laugh. “We hung out all night and finally I said, ‘what do you do?’” A few days later, Angelo signed on with Polygram, which has since merged with MCA Music to become the Universal Music Publishing Group, and acquired not only the deal he’d hoped for but the freedom to pursue his own muse as well. “(Their) vision was, ‘I love what you do. Go ahead and do it.’” Angelo says appreciatively. He was then introduced to George Ducas, who put three Angelo songs (not to mention his guitar work) on his first record. The album’s producer was roots country stalwart Richard Bennett, who was also making Kim Richey’s first record.
Angelo and Richey were a musical match waiting to happen. He co-wrote three songs on her debut project for Mercury. They also co-wrote the grammy nominated song “Believe Me Baby (I Lied),” for Trisha Yearwood. When it came time for Richey to make her second album, Angelo had worked on so many of the songs that he became a natural choice to produce.
Working with Richey felt like an extension of the best work he’d done with the Immortals, Angelo says. “Kim and I sat down and listened to the Band’s first couple records,” he recalls, to absorb their organic sounds and elemental grooves. Equally as influential was the relaxed pace of the recording process the Band embodied. “That’s the kind of record I always wanted to make – where you just kind of camp out and experiment. Anybody can jump on anything. It’s not always being totally proficient at your instrument that leads to a beautiful sound.”
The result was “Bitter Sweet,” a critically acclaimed record that seethed with energy, texture, and crisply composed songs. Angelo toured with Richey as she rose in stature. He joined forces with a similarly individual female artist, producing and writing “One Big Love” for Patty Griffin. He writes with Prophet, Jarvis, Topley and others who are crafting a vibrant, intelligent alternative to mainstream music. That’s not to say that Angelo doesn’t ever write a good country song. He’s scored cuts in recent years with a variety of mainstream artists such as Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood, Sara Evans, Leann Womack, Brooks and Dunn and Jessica Andrews.
Not surprisingly then, Angelo calls himself “a chameleon.” He might also be seen as a bridge between two worlds, or an explorer who forages for bold new ideas in the realms of the unfamiliar and who brings them back for the rest of us.