Album Reviews

Stephen Sanchez – Angel Face

(Mercury) UK release date: 22 September 2023

Nashville-based singer’s tasteful debut album shows off his extraordinary voice while occasionally sounding like it belongs in the 1950s

Stephen Sanchez - Angel Face The rumours were rife before Elton John‘s final, farewell, performance at Glastonbury back in June. Which star-studded names would Sir Elton bring out to bid him an emotional farewell? Paul McCartney had been spotted around the site, so he was a clear favourite. Britney Spears had been rumoured to fly across the Atlantic especially. It’s almost compulsory for Dave Grohl to make a surprise appearance at Glastonbury these days, so probably him.

So it was a bit of a surprise when a young, fresh-faced singer called Stephen Sanchez was introduced onto the Pyramid Stage to perform his song, Until I Found You. To be fair, this shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise – Sir Elton has always been keen to give new artists exposure, and Sanchez was given the biggest platform of his life.

He more than held his own on the night, which means there’s a bit of a buzz around Angel Face, the 20 year old Nashville-based singer’s debut album. It’s worth emphasising his age, as one listen to Angel Face and you’d swear you were listening to a vintage soul singer of the ’50s – Sanchez’s voice is absolutely stunning, and the 13 songs gathered on Angel Face are designed to show it off to its very best advantage.

There’s a touch of Rufus Wainwright to opening track Something About Her – a cool piano ballad which sees Sanchez properly crooning lines like “what’s the point of all this music if I’m not here to dance with you”. It’s an opening track which really grabs the attention.

There’s a loose concept scattered through the album, telling the story of a fictional Stephen Sanchez who finds fame in 1958 before meeting the love of his life Evangeline. This partly explains why the album sounds like it was recorded in some sort of capsule, but thankfully you don’t need to study the story to follow the album.

Sanchez mostly sounds like Roy Orbison, with the material sometimes almost too centred around this fact – his tremulous voice almost shaking with emotion on Be More, while the song that broke him into the mainstream, the Tik-Tok viral sensation Until I Found You is Sanchez sounding at his best: minimal retro production with his voice blending perfectly with that of fellow singer Em Beihold to create a classic-sounding love song.

Yet other aspects of Angel Face don’t hold up so well. The problem with making a record that sounds like it belongs in the 1950s means that, all too often, it sounds a bit too much like pastiche. Lovingly recreated replicas of songs that came out of Joe Meek’s studio may have a novelty value, but ultimately sound like an imitation.

At 13 tracks, it’s also way too long, although there is some welcome change of tone with the rockabilly stylings of Shake, while fans of Arctic Monkeys more recent languid songs will find much to enjoy in the string-drenched ballads like Doesn’t Do Me Any Good. There are touches of Richard Hawley‘s more uptempo moments in Caught In A Blue.

As nice as it is (and this is a very tasteful album, seemingly tailor-made to be bought for Mothers Day), Angel Face doesn’t give us much idea of who Stephen Sanchez is, apart from a seemingly nice young man with an extraordinary voice. Sometimes, if you have the songs, then that’s enough. If his next album can deliver those songs, then we may be able to see a bit more clearly what the fuss is about Stephen Sanchez.

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Stephen Sanchez – Angel Face