Annie Stela

Annie Stela

After a move to Los Angeles from her native Michigan, a trek which in many ways became the fodder for her debut album, it didn’t take long for songwriter and pianist Annie Stela to secure a deal with Capitol Records.

While recording her full-length debut, Fool, an album produced by Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow), Capitol was unfortunately in the midst of a major shake-up. Deciding it best to avoid what was sure to be a tumultuous road ahead for her career, Stela was able to successfully leave the label and ultimately decided to release Fool independently through iTunes in 2008.

That decision has proven wise, as it hasn’t slowed down Stela’s trajectory to a wider audience, who later that year, went on to share stages with the likes of Bright Eyes and Ron Sexsmith.

Once she was back home, Stela spent time writing and recording for her second and third releases, which came in the form of two EPs: Little House and its follow-up Hard City in 2009.

The songwriter’s latest is the immensely enjoyable William EP, a four-track collection of cover songs by artists whose first names share the album’s title. The concept, while simple, was borne out of a conversation about Billy Joel, one of the songwriter’s favorite songwriters.

As Stela explains it:

“William” was conceived one night when I was having dinner with friends. We were talking about Billy Joel, the love of my musical life, and soon the conversation turned to how many artists have the name Billy, or its proper name, William. After listing every William we could think of (will.i.am, Will Smith and even Billy Corgan were thrown out there) I vowed to make an album consisting solely of songs written and originally performed by Williams. We toasted to it and the EP was born.

William EP

William EP

The selections of songs Stela chose to include for William span a small assortment of artist and genres.

Eighties rocker Billy Idol‘s ‘Eyes Without A Face,’ one of the softer songs found in his entire canon, starts the EP with Stela steering the song with just her piano and the soft accompaniment of layered background vocals. The sheer softness of her rendition cuts through the quiet and magnifies the song’s message.

Joel is represented with Stela’s rendition of his song, ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ – a track which Joel released on his 1980 album, Glass Houses. Stela’s version is an extremely confident and infectious cover, demonstrating her obvious love of Joel’s music.

American country legend Willie Nelson is also covered with ‘So Much To Do’ from his 1973 album, Shotgun Willie while arena rocker Billy Squier‘s hit, ‘My Kinda Lover,’ is given a sweet and groovy face-lift and demonstrates Stela’s clear, capable and finely controlled voice.

With William, Stela has created a remarkable group of covers that not only dust off these classic songs and demand being reacquainted with them, but also fit well into her own catalog of smart, piano-driven pop. Equally remarkable, Stela is making the entire EP free for listeners to download via her official website.

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