I’ve written a bit about Bristol, UK-based singer/songwriter and soul artist Hannah Williams over the past couple of years, and as you may recall Williams can trace some of the origins of her musical career to growing up in a extremely musical household — her father was a musician and minister. Williams learned how to read music before she could actually read words, and as the story goes, when she was a young girl, her mother introduced her to Motown and Bill Withers, which transformed her life. Along with that, Williams’ mother encouraged her to join the church choir when she recognized that her daughter had talent.
With the release of “Work It Out,” off 2012’s full-length debut Hill of Feathers, Williams and her first backing band The Tastemakers, quickly emerged into national and international soul circles with the track receiving attention across the blogosphere and airplay on radio stations across the States, Australia and the European Union. Interestingly, at one point “Work It Out” was one of the most downloaded songs in Greece and the video has amassed over 1.5 million streams on YouTube. Building upon a growing profile, Williams played sets across the European festival circuit, including stops at Shambala Festival, Valley Fest, Wilderness Festival, Cambridge Jazz Festival and Larmer Tree Festival, as well as some of Europe’s most renowned clubs, including Hamburg, Germany‘s Mojo; Manchester, UK’s Band on the Wall; Camden, UK‘s Jazz Cafe and others with the likes of JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, and Charles Bradley, as well as Cat Power.
Williams’ 2016 Michael Cotto-produced sophomore album Late Nights and Heartbreak was the first recorded output with her backing band, the Bristol-based soul outfit, The Affirmations, which is currently comprised of James Graham (organ, piano and Wurlitzer), Adam Holgate (guitar), Adam Newton (bass), Jai Widdowson-Jones (drums), Nicholas Malcolm (trumper), Liam Treasure (trombone), Victoria Klewin (baritone saxophone) and Hannah Nicholson (backing vocals). And the album which featured the Dusty Springfield-like torch song “Tame in the Water” and the psychedelic soul-tinged edition of “Dazed and Confused” was one of my favorite albums that year.
The following year, Hannah Williams and The Affirmations received greater international attention after smash hit-making producer NO I.D. sampled the heart aching hook of “Late Nights and Heartbreak” for Jay-Z‘s “4:44.” “It was an incredible catalyst,” Williams says in press notes, “as a change in our collective career, and getting a global audience. Suddenly, there were millions of predominantly American hip-hop fans listening to my voice, going ‘Is this from the ’60s? Is she dead?’” Unsurprisingly, as a result of the attention they received from “4:44,” the rising soul act spent the better part of 2018 on the most extensive touring schedule of their collective careers, including stops at SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, Brooklyn Bowl, the Toronto Jazz Festival and across the European Union, where they expanded their fanbase.
With growing attention on them, the members of the rising soul act were determined to make the record of their lives. And in order to do so, they recruited Shawn Lee, an acclaimed funk/soul artist and producer to work on Williams’ third album 50 Foot Woman. Slated for an October 18, 2019 release through Record Kicks Records, the album reportedly finds the members of the band accurately capturing the visceral power of their live show on wax — all while further establishing a sound that equally draws from classic soul, psych soul and funk, with a subtly modern take.
“50 Foot Woman,” the album’s title track and first single is a strutting and explosive stomp stomp that sonically is one part Ike and Tina Turner classic soul and one part fed-up tell-off to haters, naysayers and others, in which its narrator has finally had enough with the bullshit, and one part Daptone Records-like soul. But unlike their previously released material, the song has a loose, jam-like vibe, centered around Williams’ crooning and shouting with a take-no-prisoners, take-no-shit attitude.
Directed and filmed by Nick Donnelly, the recently released video is set in a decidedly English pub, where we see Williams and her bandmates hanging out and chatting over a few pints. Nearby an older lady is dancing her ass off and having herself a good time, much to Williams delight. Interestingly, the video makes a point of reminding the viewer that “50 Foot Woman” is a contemporary, feminist anthem.