I’ve written a bit about Bristol, UK-based singer/songwriter and soul artist Hannah Williams over the past couple of years. The Bristol-based JOVM mainstay can trace some of the originals of her musical career to growing up in an extremely musical household — her father was a musician and minister. And as you may recall, Williams learned how to read music before she could read words — and as as the story goes, when she was a young girl, her mother introduced her to Motown and Bill Withers, which wound up transforming her life. Interestingly, Williams’ mother quickly recognized that a young Williams had talent and encouraged her to join the church choir.
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 current backing band, the Bristol-based soul outfit, The Affirmations, 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). The album continued to build upon Williams’ growing profile in soul music circles, thanks in part to the Dusty Springfield-like torch song “Tame in the Water” and the psychedelic soul-tinged edition of “Dazed and Confused.” In fact, the album was one of my personal favorites that year.
Over the course of the following year, Hannah Williams and The Affirmations received even 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 release this Friday 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 was a strutting and explosive stomp that sonically was one part Ike and Tina Turner-era classic soul and one part fed-up tell-off to haters, naysayers and others and one part Daptone Records-like soul — with a fed-up narrator, who has finally had enough with the bullshit and games. But at its core, the song is a contemporary feminist anthem of a strong woman being done wrong and who figures out a way to survive and then thrive. The album’s second and latest single “I Feel It” is a primarily a slow-burning ballad, centered around Williams’ expressive powerhouse vocals, twinkling keys, a sinuous bass line, a horn section that can compete with the Dap Kings and a production that’s effortlessly old-timey without resorting to soulless mimicry or homage. But more important, Williams is superstar in the making — she can pair soulful vocals with gut-punching earnestness in a way that’s rare in this age.
Directed and filmed by BD, the recently released video for “I Feel It” is an incredibly stylized and cinematic shot visual featuring the band performing the song in a 60s-like studio space, complete with some brooding close ups of the members of the band.