Singer-songwriter Nathan Angelo’s daughter Lucy was only 20 months old when she was diagnosed with maple syrup urine disease, a rare metabolic disorder in which a child is unable to process amino acids properly, according to the National Institutes of Health. If untreated, NIH notes, the disease can lead to seizures, coma, and death.
But nearly a year removed from it all, Angelo talks about the scariest moment of his life with some degree of detachment. It’s almost like he’s describing a movie or, perhaps, even a dream.
He talks about his daughter’s serious illness, her desperate need for a liver transplant, about him and his wife, Lindsay, having to feed her through a tube every three hours around the clock, about the six months she waited on the transplant list, about all of it like he’s still bewildered by it.
“My wife and I had to make a lot of big medical decisions very quickly,” he says. “We had to be strong together and make those calls. We were in survival mode, and it was super tiring.”
That’s the situation in which Angelo, a gifted singer, songwriter, and pianist, wrote his new album, “A Matter of Time” — working alongside his wife Lindsay to the point of exhaustion to keep his daughter alive and waiting for the call that would let them know if she would ultimately live or die.
On the surface, listening to the album, you might never even realize what Angelo and his family were going through. The music is the same warm, incredibly melodic blend of pop and soul that Angelo has been making his entire career, full of passionate vocals, richly detailed arrangements, horns, an R&B-style rhythm section, and Angelo’s skillful piano and organ work. Every song seems like some lost late ’70s gem that blends Elton John’s songcraft with a more personal lyrical approach.
“I’m sharing more about my daughter onstage, and people are coming up afterwards and telling me they had similar experiences with their kids and how scary it was.”
But it’s those lyrics that, on closer inspection, go beyond mere love-and-heartbreak songs. On “Timeless,” when he sings about the “ups and downs and thick and thin,” or “Lifetime,” where the line “free-falling forever” is delivered in such a seductive falsetto that the fear in that phrase almost doesn’t cut through, Angelo isn’t singing about some blissful dreamland of love, even if it seems like he is.
“I try to put a piece of my own story in most of my songs,” Angelo says. “But I definitely do like to move from my experience to a broader picture so other people can relate. I like leaving it open a little bit so that more people can relate to it. So with a song like ‘Timeless,’ you probably don’t get it just from hearing it, but it’s actually about what you should do to preserve your marriage.”
If people do come away with a more optimistic feel from Angelo’s songs than he might intend, it might be because he has a natural tendency toward uplifting music.
“When I was kid, my dad was a pastor in a small church in South Florida, and the music was this joyous, uplifting sound,” he says. “And in church, a lot of times you’re singing about how life is hard and things aren’t great, but you’ve got hope. I think to a large degree that will never leave me, because it was such a big part of my childhood. That’s my angle on expressing music. And if you look at some of my other influences, the Stevie Wonders, the Michael Jacksons, there’s some darkness, but there’s a brightness that typically shines through.”
With his daughter’s post-transplant health improving all the time, Angelo has found a new perspective on his music while on tour.
“I’m sharing more about my daughter onstage, and people are coming up afterwards and telling me they had similar experiences with their kids and how scary it was,” he says. “It’s kind of a special thing to be able to put your heart on the table and let it bring some healing and peace to other people as well.”
The Spinning Jenny, 107 Cannon St., Greer
Friday, Sept. 8, 9 p.m.
$10 advance, $14 day of show