During the past four years or so, I’ve managed to spill copious amounts of virtual ink covering acclaimed Bristol, UK-based soul singer/songwriter and JOVM mainstay Hannah Williams.
With “Work It Out,” off 2012’s full-length debut Hill of Feathers, Williams and her first backing band The Tastemakers, 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. At one point “Work It Out” was one of the most downloaded songs in Greece with the video amassing 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; and Camden, UK‘s Jazz Cafe 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, 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 further established Williams’ growing profile across the international soul scene.
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 even more attention on them, Williams and company were determined to make the record of their lives. The end result was their Shawn Lee produced effort, last year’s 50 Foot Woman. The album finds the band accurately capturing the visceral power of their live show on wax — white further establishing a sound that generally draws from classic soul, psych soul and funk, with a subtly modern take. 50 Foot Woman’s fourth and latest single “The Only Way Out Is Through” is a defiantly strutting song about resilience, self-determination, self-reliance, embracing suffering as part of growth and finding strength and power within yourself, centered around Williams’ powerhouse vocal, a shimmering psych soul groove and forceful horn section.
“I was going through a really tough break up and struggling with the idea of being alone when Hannah said to me ‘All you need now is you,'” the song’s writer Victoria Klewin explains in press notes. “That stuck in my head and the rest of the lyrics followed. The pain of that situation was hugely transformative for me, so I wanted to write a song about actively embracing emotional suffering in order to grow and also finding strength in your own autonomy.”
So there a couple of things you should know — if you were previously unaware:
Hannah Williams can sang. And I think she should be the most famous soul singer in the entire world — right this very second.
The Affirmations can give the Daptone crew a run for their money. They’re one of the best contemporary soul acts in the world. And if you don’t believe me, check out “Still In My Head” off Late Nights and Heartbreak and tell me that I’m wrong. That’s a hill, I’m willing to die on.
The song’s writer, Victoria Klewin couldn’t have imagined how relevant to this year and this particular period of history as she wrote it. We’re going to go through a horrible patch — and there’s no choice but to dig down deep and go through it as bravely as we can. The only way out is through.l.
Williams sings some feminist anthems, y’all.
Shot, edited and directed by Dawn Kelly, Will Nash and Bird Lime Media, the recently released video for “The Only Way Out Is Through” uses some deft video editing and effects as we see three different Hannah Williamses — one, who’s in the throes of heartache, a second, who’s defiant and proud, and the third, coolly drives the car. The video manages to evoke our innermost battle with ourselves and our psyche.