Woodstock duo Vagabond Angels debuts meaningful 'Man on Fire'

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Describing each song as a meaningful story, the Woodstock duo Vagabond Angels has released a debut album.

For them, the story behind the album, “Man on Fire,” is just as meaningful, and they’re hoping their music – a “radio-friendly merge of rock, pop and country” – resonates with all who listen.

“I think the arts are very therapeutic to me, and I would reckon to guess they’re therapeutic to a lot of people,” said Rikki Lee Travolta, the lead singer for Vagabond Angels.

Travolta and the other half of Vagabond Angels, Joey Broman, who harmonizes with Travolta and plays at least 14 different instruments, met through the Woodstock branch of Thresholds, a Chicago area organization that provides support for people living with mental illness.

The two share a love of music, as well as the determination to not to let mental illness deter them from following their dreams. To them, the album is a “victory lap.”

“We choose not to be defined by our disability,” said Travolta, who released the memoir, “Unbecoming Travolta,” about his struggles with mental illness in 2013. “It’s a bump in the road on our path to greatness.”

A mix of 13 songs written entirely by Travolta and Broman, “Man on Fire” was recorded at Backstage Audio and Recording in Northbrook by producer David M. Busscher. The cover is courtesy of Jim Pierce of Downtown Photo in Crystal Lake.

Featuring songs that “range from patriotic to humorous; from love song ballads to down and dirty rock ’n’ roll,” the CD is available now at CD Baby and Amazon.com.

The duo is hosting a CD release party from 2 to 4 p.m. March 16 at Stage Left Café, 125 W. Van Buren St., next to the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock. The CD will be available to buy for $9.99 at the event.

Among the songs are Travolta’s take on growing up without a father in “Daddy Can You Hear Me?” and “Hero’s Lullaby,” a tribute to fallen heroes – “from military personnel to civil rights activists.”

Compared to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and Toby Keith’s “Beer for My Horses,” “Drinking Too Slow” brings a lighter side to the album as a humorous country tune. And both Travolta and Broman point to “Girl Says,” a fresh take on the breakup song genre, as one of their favorites.

Along with Brooks and Keith, a wide range of influences for the album include the Zac Brown Band, John Mellencamp, R.E.M., The Chainsmokers, Harry Chapin, Joshua Kadison and even Elvis.

“I grew up watching Elvis movies every weekend because we had four channels, and I’d watch these old black-and-white movies and I just fell in love with his voice,” said Travolta, who also has performed in numerous community theater productions throughout the area and hosts “It’s Showtime With Rikki Lee” on Huntley Community Radio at 101.5 FM.

He earned a Broadway World Chicago Theatre Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of R.P. McMurphy in TownSquare Players’ production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 2016 at the Woodstock Opera House.

Travolta also serves on the advisory committee for It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley, the new resident theater company of the Huntley Park District, and stars in two independent movies, “The Lurker” and “Fear Frenzy!” Both were filmed in Chicago and expected to be released this year.

Broman previously recorded with the bands Elephant Gun and The Kranes, but also has classical training, performing as a professional church organist for 10 years. Having taught himself to play numerous instruments, he teaches private music lessons in the Woodstock area.

“I’m always learning,” he said. “That’s the main thing with me. I’m never done yet.”

He saw the album as the latest in his continuing quest for creativity.

“What we do is 100 percent collaborative, and it’s therapeutic to write,” he said. “When we write, we put our all into it, which makes it really cool. ... When we were putting the songs together, it went really naturally.”

It’s the type of album that grows on you the more you listen to it, he said.

“Only a certain amount of records these days have that ability,” he said. “They’re out there, but rare.”

For information on the band, visit www.vagabondangels.net.