Any marriage can have its trials, but when husband and wife team together to make music, one can only applaud that extra effort. When listening to the fine retro stylings from the Villas, praise comes fairly easily. These two talented guitarist/vocalists based in Allentown, Pennsylvania make fun, clean, guitar-driven music that recalls bygone days of melody and harmony. Oh, and they happen to be married.
The duo met in storybook fashion when Angel Ali answered Bill Villa’s personal ad description: “chain smoker compulsively working on music”. He came from a musical family, once had a locally successful duo called The Fops, and managed a rock band called Daddy Licks when not being creative director of his own advertising agency. She fronted a few local bands en route to a career as an art teacher. On their first blind date, they exchanged cassette tapes of their own songs and the rest, as they say, is history (Bill and Angie married in late June 1999).
Set for Life is the more-rocking sophomore effort from the duo, who now are joined by a host of other musicians: Dave Follweiler on keyboards (he also co-produced the CD), Dan McKinney on keyboards and percussion, Jon McNamara with harmonies, guitar, and percussion, Dave Baun on bass, and Dave Ferrara on drums.
The CD opens with the infectious jangle pop strains of “Way to Go”, an answer to an ex- whose game is online deception: “You said I was your only one / Was that just the moment”.
“Personal Property” allows bassist Dave Baun to show his stuff on another up-tempo, catchy number, in which Bill Villa sings of his independence from a most demanding lover with this “hey, I’ve got a life of my own” declaration.
“You Know Better” is a mellow song that deals with a demanding, venomous person, and is a track that would grace the radios of a wiser galaxy.
Villa writes a few of these songs with ex-bandmate Kevin Curry (the Fops), whose specialty seems to be a fascination with tempos. Two of their collaborations—“Tell Me Everything You Know” and “Quest of Fools”—are songs that achieve extra interest through successfully mixing different rhythms, while the third, “Dreamland,” is more of a straight-ahead rocker.
Bill Villa also writes a very pretty one called “Savoy Truffles” with Pat Wallace, typical of the CD’s quality music: good harmonies and sweet melodies that stand up to repeated listening. His collaboration with Dave Follweiler, “I’ll Have You Know”, provides a lot of musical twists and turns in a very short time, handled adeptly by the Villas and company (this song actually is a valentine from husband to wife).
Though much of Set For Life showcases Bill Villa’s songwriting talents, some of the highlights here come from elsewhere. The poignantly graceful ballad “Now It Can Be Told” is a Dave Follweiler composition, featuring some wonderful bowed upright bass from guest John Gaffney. Bill Villa does a fine job with the emotional vocals, a song about deciding to end a relationship, knowing when it’s “a time to go”.
The other surprise gem here is the sweet “Center of the Universe”, where Angie Villa is given a chance to sing on a song co-written with her husband. This is a coming-of-age song, wherein the singer realizes, “Now there’s no time to waste thinking of the sad times / I’ve found that I really have to turn my point of view around / And away from myself as the center of the universe”. It made me want to hear more songs featuring Angie.
Bill Villa’s impressive cover of the pretty Steve Earle tune, “More Than I Can Do”, is another highlight here. Angie’s harmonies and Dave Follweiler’s accordion add just the right musical accents.
The Villas mostly reference the pleasant retro guitar sounds and harmonies of, say, a Richard X. Heyman (who actually is a fan of the Villas’ music), or the Byrds, or countless others, but they also incorporate elements of jazz (listen to “Toppers”), folk rock (“To Be in Love”), alt-country (the Earle cover), and harder rock as well (check out “Exclusions”).
While the lyrics aren’t often profound, they deal with personal issues (broken hearts, stuck up snobs, troubled or demanding loves) in a way that works well within the parameters of this music. All the songs are remarkably pleasant, there’s not one here that isn’t worth your ear time, and it’s a nice variety of faster songs and ballads.
Set for Life is just under 46 minutes worth of fine and fun, melodic, soft power pop from a very talented married duo (and some of their equally talented friends). If you’re into guitar-based, retro-styled, melodic pop, you can’t go wrong with this new set from the Villas.
// Notes from the Road
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