Friday, November 28, 2014

a birthday blog for my friend, BethAnne!

Every so often, when some unsuspecting friend has a birthday, I decide I’m going to blog about them and their awesomeness. Today is my friend BethAnne Clayton’s turn. So first off, Happy Birthday, Beth!!!!

Beth and I met our first few days in Nashville, 1996, through our mutual friend Robin. We moved there the same week, and I don’t know how many people Beth knew when she moved there, but I knew only one – Robin.

That Beth and I would become friends seems inevitable, as I think about it now. We were born three months apart, grew up in the same area of the country, love all the same music and artists, not to mention foods. We both play keyboard and I think even had the same keyboard at one point.

I could go on about how we enjoy a good shopping bargain and how she started me on my Partylite candle obsession. Oooh, and then there was that Tupperware party. I laugh every time I see our same cookie containers these many years later.

The quirky fun stuff wasn’t all we shared in common, though. We each had a parent who had Lupus and lost their battle with it, so there is an unspoken understanding of that particular kind of suffering and loss.

Friendship is an interesting commodity that people define in many different ways. I myself have only one criterion, basically, that defines someone as a close friend of mine or not – can you be counted on. If I called you at three in the morning and needed you, would you be there, regardless of what it was for? I think of all the qualities I love most about BethAnne, this is the thing I know about her and love the most. Well, that and her meatloaf. Seriously. It’s the best damn thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.

And I’ve gotten this far in the blog without even getting to her musical genius. I don’t even know where to begin about that. When I met her, she only played keyboard. And when I say “only” played keyboard, I mean you could name any song ever written and she could sit down and play and sing it as if it had been well rehearsed. One day she picked up an accordion and just started playing it. Then it was guitar. I think she had one lesson and started playing gigs – on guitar. Need any kind of harmony sung or arranged? Beth can do it – on the spot – perfectly. And her voice? Gorgeous. I am convinced she could sing a lead vocal while eating a taco and it would still sound better than any other singer’s best efforts without the taco. (I have no idea why I threw the taco thing in there, but now that I mention it, I could really go for Mexican.)

Oooh, while I’m singing her praises, go buy her Christmas album! It’s one of my all time favorites. (Beth's music)

I could go on and on, but the point it this – I am blessed to have BethAnne as a friend, and if this blog could make her feel even half as special as her friendship has made me feel over the years, then I’ve done my job.

Beth, I hope your day is a non-stop joy-fest of love and happiness.

Happy, Happy Birthday!!!


Beth and Me on my birthday this year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

a Thanksgiving blog, 2014

I know, I’m getting a jumpstart on the holiday, but is it ever too early to be thankful, really?

With each passing year, I become more keenly aware that we aren’t promised even the next five minutes, let alone days or years, so I try not to let an opportunity go by where I don’t savor the present moment and make sure the people around me know that they are loved.

There’s a lot to be thankful for – always. So if you’re reading this, please know that I am thankful for you, whether it’s the first time you’re dropping by to see what my blog is all about or you’ve been a faithful follower from the get go.

Time seems to be going faster and faster, maybe because the world is getting smaller and we’re inundated with news images 24/7. Because of that, we know what’s going on everywhere, but just this once, I’m gonna ask you to join me in stopping for a moment to check in with what is going on inside your own heart.

There can be no peace in the world that doesn’t first begin in a single human heart, so as we watch the unrest in our country with great despair, let’s take a moment to contribute something resembling peace, instead.

Whatever relationships we would want to have healed in some way, let’s be the healing force for them ourselves. Pick up the phone, extend the olive branch, take the first step. I’m all for prayer, but turmoil, unrest, and discord are manmade. And whatever is going on in our individual lives is reflected out in the world around us. So let’s take a moment before turkey and football to find the place where peace and gratitude reside within us and let’s begin inhabiting that with regularity so that it might be reflected out in the world.

As has been my tradition for several years now, I like to make a list of what I’m thankful for, a random stream of consciousness, if you will, encompassing whatever pops into my little head at the moment. So here goes this year’s list in no particular order.

I am thankful for –

Every moment spent with people I love.

Good friends, good wine, and good food (preferably enjoyed together).

Pro Tools – it had to be said.

Sappy Christmas movies.

Good health.

Did I mention friends? Seriously, I have the BEST friends.

Music – and the ability to make it and share it.

Dreams that have come true.


Apple products.

Tanya – because she’s texting me as I type this, so she’s getting her very own shout out. Plus, I’m thankful for her.

Whoever invented luggage with wheels. Bravo.

The Broadway musical.

Jeans with lycra/spandex. This cannot be overstated.

Shiny things – lip gloss, diamonds, Christmas lights – whatever makes life prettier.

Kale. Totally joking.


Moments that take my breath away.

My niece Samantha.

Yesterdays remembered, today cherished, and the promise of tomorrows.

I am thankful for every moment lived and every person who has ever crossed paths with me.

What are you thankful for? I so appreciate you stopping by. Please tell your friends and have a beautiful, blessed Thanksgiving!



Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Meet the Players" #3 - Bass and Drums

When I started out to create this album, I didn’t know who all the participants would be. I only knew some. The thing I did know, however, was that I wanted more than just talent. I wanted people with heart playing on it, who would actually care about the project.

That sounds like kind of a naïve intention for someone who has been in the music business for a lot of years and done countless studio sessions. But it was because I have done countless sessions that I knew the difference.

When it came time to start selecting musicians, Tanya, my producer, started throwing out names. Really, from the get go, she only said one bass player and that I would love him. She called him, in fact, right then and there. And he said he knew the perfect drummer for us, too. Awesome.

Do I trust this and just go with it? What if I don’t like it? I don’t have funds for redo’s of anything.  I decided to trust the part of me that knew this was a good idea.

Both the bass player and drummer are Nashville based. So we would be sending music files and they’d be sending files back.

When we got the first group of songs back and sat down to listen I was nervous. Not because they didn’t have ridiculous resumes, which I’ll get to in a minute, but because this was the moment this project went from being just Ilene and her piano to “the band” and “the record.”

They weren’t just great. They were absurdly great. I did my happy dance around the room and let out at least one audible squeal of delight, accompanied by, “It’s a record! It’s a record!” possibly a few dozen times.

So I am thrilled to introduce you to Mark Prentice on bass and Matt Bubel on drums.

Mark Prentice is a Grammy winning musician, producer, and songwriter, who has worked with Michael McDonald, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Urban, Vince Gill, and a huge, long list of others. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few months ago when he was in town touring with Felix Cavaliere. And he’s as nice and funny as he is ridiculously talented.

Matt Bubel is an amazing drummer who has worked with Darius Rucker, Kenny Rogers, and Ben E. King, to name a few. He has the distinction of being the only person on this record whom I’ve yet to meet face to face. I could try and make stuff up about him, but really, all you need to know is that he is amazing.

So that concludes this installment of “Meet the Players.”

I am getting more and more excited as this project progresses toward conclusion, as I hope you are, too.

Since we are coming upon the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems like an excellent time to say, “thank you,” again. This project would not be coming to fruition without your support in every way, shape, and form.

Thank you so much!!!

Peace & Blessings (and hugs and kisses) to you!


Friday, November 14, 2014

a moment's candor

I suppose it could be argued that each time I blog or write a project update is a moment’s candor on my part. But this feels somehow different, so I’m going to just go with it.

I recorded my next to last lead vocal this week, and it was probably the most profound of the experiences I’ve had singing for this record so far. The beauty of it was that it was completely unexpected.

This thing artists and writers do, when I stop and think about it for a moment, seems part magic and part madness. To create something out of thin air is one thing, but to allow something to emerge through you is another. It requires complete surrender, getting out of the way, dropping the baggage.

What we do is about emotion laid bare. Let me tell you about my deepest heartache, greatest joy, biggest fear, wildest dreams. Let me be exposed and vulnerable, showing you my weakness, while at the same time exhibiting an extraordinary amount of strength and bravery by doing so.

When left to our own devices and highest calling, this is what my fellow singer/songwriters and I do. We share the human experience and give it meaning in the way that only each one of us can. And it is a privilege to get to do so. Sometimes we forget that.

So I got to the studio on Monday, thinking I would be singing “No End to Love” just like I had been doing since I wrote it with my Nashville co-writer, Fred a number of years ago – straight forward and big.

This is the song on the record that’s been in existence the longest, the one I never recorded myself, one that had been on hold for at least half a dozen artists, including Faith Hill, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. (None of whom cut it, by the way – which is why I’m sure a lot of writers take up drinking, but not me. I prefer to bury my disappointments in sarcasm, peppered with a dash of irony. Also, ice cream. Ice cream works well for me.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, so as we were listening down to the track, I was singing along softly to it. Tanya (my producer, for those of you just joining these festivities now) realized that something special was happening. She ran and moved the mic and everything else over to where I was sitting, and I recorded the vocal right then and there. Quietly. Intimately. In the moment. As the private conversation you will all be privy to when the record is done and out. 

Lyrics take on different meaning at different moments in our lives. If we’re lucky, that meaning deepens with the passage of time, like it did for me in this instance.

And I suppose that, just as surrender is necessary to allow for something bigger to emerge through us, surrender is also necessary to allow for it to travel where it is intended to go.

As this project continues on its path toward conclusion, I am in constant gratitude for the experience, for the chance to share that experience in all its different facets with you as it progresses, and for the immense joy it is to do what I love doing most.

Thanks for stopping by and for hanging in there with me. Please tell your friends. 

Peace & Blessings (and hugs and kisses),


Friday, November 7, 2014

Project Update - Meet the Players Volume 2 - Tanya Leah, Producer

Tanya Leah and Me

Sometimes it’s the thing said with candor that changes the course of our lives. And sometimes, a friend is just the person to say it.

To be honest with you, I had a burning desire to make this record, but I had no idea how I could – financially, logistically, and in every other which way. But life has a funny way of presenting us with pivotal moments. And those pivotal moments, from which all accomplishment emanates, are the moments when we decide.

I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with introducing you to the multi-hat-wearing Tanya Leah. So I’m going to reveal the private, candid conversation that clinched the creation of this album.

It went something like this:

Tanya to Ilene:      Do you really want to be on your deathbed looking back at your life saying, “I should have made that fucking record?”

Ilene to Tanya:      No.

And there it is in a nutshell. The decision was made. And once a decision is made, there’s no turning back or stopping until it’s completed…no matter what…even if.

So now it is my pleasure to introduce you to the ridiculously multi-talented, Tanya Leah – my producer, arranger, co-writer, guitar player, harmonica (yes, harmonica player, though that one was largely born out of necessity), and also, the “please can you shoot my crowd funding video and help me get it up there” person, as well as my “hey, I’m having a semi good hair day, can you stand on a chair and take a picture of me for these updates” person!!! There’s really nothing she hasn’t done to help make this dream of mine a reality. So it’s nice to have the opportunity to acknowledge that publicly here. (I also make it a practice to tell her she’s a genius at least once a day, though the way I text, it often comes out fenius. But it’s the thought that counts.)

I think it was halfway through the making of her own CD, Roses for Panjo - Somewhere Beautiful, that I first approached her about producing my record. I was listening to what she was doing with her own, and all I could describe it as was achingly beautiful. The production was sparse enough to let her voice shine and the songs’ emotional impact be the prevailing thing about the record. I wanted those same qualities for my own project, and so I asked.

It’s a weird thing asking your friend to produce you, I have to admit. Things could go sideways a million different times and ways, which is why Tanya and I sat down from the get-go and talked about the vision for the record, the songs, the players, and what was most important. I set an intention about what I wanted the experience to be like. Loving, joy-filled, celebratory, and heart-centered. Can you really decide that stuff ahead of time? Well, it turns out you can, but you have to be willing to trust and let go.

So here we are, inching close to the finish line, and I couldn’t be happier to share the experience with Tanya.

Tanya’s songs have been heard on the TV shows How I Met Your Mother, The Hills, and Dawson’s Creek. Her voice has been heard as a jingle singer for Coca-Cola, M&M’s, and Downy. And her songs (including four #1’s) have been recorded by Wynonna, Melinda Doolittle, Leslie Gore, Susan Ashton, Margaret Becker and many more.

We’ve collaborated on two songs for this project, though we’ve written many, many more together.

I cannot wait for you to hear the fruits of our labor. And as always, I thank you for supporting it and me from the bottom of my heart.

Peace & Blessings (and hugs and kisses),


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Project Update - Meet the Players Volume 1 (Me!)

It has been quite a while since I did the crowd funding portion of this CD project. So I decided to scroll through all the names of the donors to remind myself of the people who said, “Yes!” and, “We have your back on this, Ilene.”

I found it overwhelming to see the combination of both people I knew well alongside the names of complete strangers. I wondered what spoke to you about this project that prompted you to participate and what your own dreams are for your lives, because I believe they are all interconnected.

So to help bring you on this musical journey with me of creating something wholly positive that reminds us to boldly follow our hearts and passion, and to, above all, be grateful for the ride, I thought I’d start introducing you to all of the amazing players and singers and co-writers on this project, a little at a time.

To start off, who the heck is this Ilene Angel person? Yeah, I pondered whether or not I needed any introduction, before I realized that the wonderful people who blindly gave for reasons unbeknownst to me might like to know that I am not a complete charlatan.

So while I normally cringe slightly at all the bio stuff, I am including it. It not only looks nice on paper, but it has the added benefit of actually being true.

I am a classically trained musician (Northwestern University and Juilliard), who has performed at both Carnegie and Alice Tully Halls respectively in my classical singing days.

I won the Abe Olman Award from the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame for my song “Silence Where Love Used to Be,” and my first #1 song was a Disney tune titled “I Don’t Think About It,” recorded by Emily Osment, who co-starred on the TV show Hannah Montana.

The critically acclaimed song “Costco Queen” entertained audiences every night in the show Motherhood the Musical.  And my song “We All Fall Down” won the international Global Voices for Change songwriting competition. (And all three of the above mentioned were co-written with Sue Fabisch.)

I have spent quite a few years writing songs for other artists to record and have loved doing that. But truth be told, all of us harbor dreams of being front and center, of showing the world exactly who we are and what we have to say. This project is the first fully produced record I am doing as the artist and not just the writer.

Why’d I wait so long? The short answer is timing is everything. The long answer is timing is everything.

My friend, Garry, read me an amazing quote on the phone this morning that seemed to perfectly sum up how I feel about this project and its timing:

"For hundreds of years - perhaps since the beginning of Creation - a piece of the world has been waiting for your soul to purify it and repair it. And your soul, from the time it was first emanated and conceived, waited above to descend to this world and carry out that mission. And your footsteps were guided to reach that place. And you are there now."

I believe we are all called to greatness and that our greatness is found largely in the smallest of moments when we show up, fully present, as ourselves. 

If it's true that we get back what we give tenfold, then you are all going to receive an abundance of riches, in addition to already having my deepest gratitude and love. 

I am so excited for you to hear the music! And stay tuned for the next installment of "Meet the Players..."

Peace & Blessings (and hugs and kisses),
P.S. If you would like to pre-order the upcoming CD, In Color, you can now do so now on this blog page! (upper right of this page) And if you like my work and it resonates with you, you can also click the "donate" button (top right) and give any amount you like. Thanks! xo I