Angie Stevens and Haley Rydell are making beautiful music together as I'm With Her
Peggy Dyer Haley Rydell (left) and Angie Stevens are I'm With Her.
After years of building a solid, devoted following with her deeply affecting and personal songs, performing and touring frequently on her own and with a band, Angie Stevens was ready to hang up her guitar. "I needed a break," declares Angie Stevens. "I was done. I was cooked. I was done with Angie Stevens and the Beautiful Wreck. I was done being a lead singer. I was done with the bureaucracy of the music industry. I was done." But then she reconnected with Haley Rydell, a talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Fargo, whom she'd met through mutual friends in North Dakota, and everything changed.
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The rigors of the music biz had clearly taken a toll on Stevens, a lauded songwriter who'd established a strong and devoted fan base by playing countless local gigs and touring frequently. The demands of leading a band left no room to be artistic, she says, and right around that time, she reconnected with Rydell. The pair began collaborating, and the effect of their chemistry was profound -- both on their music and on each other.
Rydell, who started playing music by ear at age three, helped reignite Stevens's creativity, and I'm With Her (as their new act would eventually be dubbed, after Stevens misunderstood Rydell's suggested moniker, She's With Me) gave them both a chance to step outside their normal boundaries. Until she began playing with Stevens, Rydell was best known as the fiddle player in the Johnson Family Band.
"I was in a group of smelly boys," she says. "We just drank a lot of whiskey and traveled a lot in a van. It was great. I loved it, but I didn't get the satisfaction of being creative. It would be, 'Here, play this fiddle line.' If I threw in an extra note, that was as creative as I got to get. In the end, I wasn't able to express myself with any lyrics or anything."
And Stevens, who was coming out of a troubled relationship, had plenty of things to get off her chest. "I was like, 'I don't care if we make the first EP, if we even do a second one, or if we send it to everyone and they hate it,'" Stevens recalls. "There are no cooks in our kitchen. It's going to be us, and I need to be sad. Honestly, that's what I said to Haley -- 'I need to be sad.' If I can't be sad in my own band, I don't want to do it anymore."
Rarely has sadness sounded so good. I'm With Her's new full-length -- the fan-financed The Songs We Said Goodbye To, whose release is being celebrated tonight at the Soiled Dove Underground -- is absolutely gorgeous and finds Stevens at her absolute best. While she has always been an extraordinary songwriter, the songs on Goodbye, particularly within the framework of Rydell's exceptional added instrumentation, represent Stevens's finest work to date. And with the seamless way their voices blend in harmony, it's as though these two were always meant to be together. I'm With Her is absolutely gorgeous, like Patty Griffin sitting in with the Weepies.