string(5) "index" FATEA - Home dsffg


Hannah WhiteHannah White
Album: Whose Side Are You On?
Label: Sound Lounge
Tracks: 9

An interesting press release from Keiron Marshall, Hannah's Manager and representative from Sound Lounge Records, accompanied this album. It addressed the task of introduction from a more creative perspective than is normally the case and sets out the artist's aims for this release and beyond. Of course the normal bases are covered, the voice, the playing, the producer and plaudits collected so far. However, the narrative then shifts to the first person and Hannah takes up the story behind this particular collection of songs that make up 'Whose Side Are You On'. Hannah describes playing a song of hers, 'Whoops', at a live show after which a man said it had given him a glimpse of what it was like to be a single mum. This appears to have had a profound effect upon Hannah also and inspired her to gather and record all the songs she had written over time that loosely related to her experience of being a woman.

An active feminist, Hannah is at pains to point out her wish was never to make claims about 'right or wrong' but to simply share her story in the hope of starting a conversation.

The press release describes some of the songs on this album in depth, but does not give any real historical information about Hannah. None of the usual 'started playing the guitar at 16' or 'found her voice in her teens' type biography and it is almost as if Hannah has just 'arrived' at this point in her career, so clearly a lot of thought has been given to the image she wishes to project. I did a bit of online detective work and found her website had much the same information as in the press release. However, the online 'shop' section shows two previous full length CD's and a Christmas single that are still available. 'Poetry' a thirteen track album was released in 2009, the eleven track 'Noughts and Crosses' in 2013 and the single 'Almost Christmas Day' in late 2013.

A quick listen through on iTunes showed these to be well written and recorded songs, so clearly Hannah has been busy performing for sometime now.

Lastly, she has a good, active profile on Facebook and Twitter and an up to date website with some particularly well recorded videos. Therefore, the sense is not so much of Hannah being without a past, but more that of her experiences, as detailed in these songs, helping shape how she wishes to define herself now.

The album itself is beautifully recorded and produced by multi instrumentalist Nigel Stonier. He is well known and respected for his work with Fairport Convention, the Waterboys and Thea Gilmore amongst many others, as well as for being a fine performer in his own right. I also came across him very recently through his contribution to the folk singer Kelly Oliver's CD 'Bedlam'.

Most tracks consist of Hannah on vocals and guitar with Nigel then adding further acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, mandolin, ukulele, various keyboards, piano and backing vocals across the various songs. The only additional musicians featured are Alan Lowles on Accordion for two tracks and the drums of Che Beresford on three.

Without doubt, Hannah has a stunning voice, flexible, sensitive and conveying of a vulnerable power, particularly on the slower songs. Production wise this album covers many musical bases and she traverses these demands without apparent difficulty.

The first track 'Stupid Little Fruit Tree' is a great album opener, driving along in lively fashion on a breezy rhythm track with some lovely little musical flourishes, topped off with Hannah's vocal sitting sweetly in the mix.

Second song 'I'll Make You Strong' is similarly breezy and ridiculously catchy.

The musical stylings and production are, in the best possible way, almost 'Eurovision' in nature, the quirky accordion fills, the almost squeaky break in Hannah's voice when she sings 'baby' and the universally sing-along chorus.

As engaging as the first two tracks are, the next two raise the bar several notches in my view. 'Whoops', Hannah's tale of being a suspected drug trafficker by customs officers purely because her children had different surnames to her, sleazes in on a lovely drum shuffle and heavy bass line and sounds for all the world like the mighty trip hop of Morcheeba at their finest. The vocal really sits on top of the mix and it is a particularly warm take, which helps push home the pithy lyrics. I could easily imagine this song picked up by some R&B heavyweight, given the big sound treatment and maybe even a guest rap popped in the middle to add a little urban grime!

'Whose Side Are You On' though surpasses even this. Hannah's song is unflinchingly personal and she has the ability to marry a searingly honest lyric to a beautiful melody performed in a simple, straightforward manner. Her voice sounds stunning here and just does not need any excess or affectations to carry the song. I think her strength as a songwriter is most evident in her first person songs and the ability to make a stark, almost harsh lyric, poetically moving. I defy anyone not to be moved by the heart breaking beauty of the "Do I tell them that my Father lay dying with no hospital bed" line, which is just slipped in without fanfare and moves the song to somewhere almost unbearably poignant.

On the subject of first person songs, for me the other two stand out tracks on the album are both in this vein. 'His Perfect Mind' is a pure piano and vocal song, which pushes and pulls with a lovely rhythmic pulse that really displays Hannah's phrasing. It was wrote after the relationship breakdown with her Daughters Father but as another reference point, it is easy to imagine this one as the central number in a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical such is its majestic scope.

'Tracey Emin' is my favourite song on the album. Starting with what sounds almost like a Bontempi keyboard drum machine track along with a treated guitar arpeggio, it enters in very courtly, atmospheric fashion. Hannah provides another perfectly understated vocal that tempers the very personal nature of the lyrics but without diluting their impact in any way. It also highlights yet again her ability to slip in heartbreaking lines without fuss or showiness and there are several examples in this song alone. It is also a song without a real chorus as such; more of a lovely refrain and this lends a restless, unsettling feel that quietly adds to the drama.

The other three songs that I have not covered in depth are still fine, very commercial numbers. 'Beautiful Dresses' is an acoustic driven track with another hooky chorus and some particularly fine drumming. 'I See Sky' is very poppy and uplifting, that again demonstrates Hannah's winning way with a chorus and I can imagine this being a real live favourite. Lastly, 'It's All That I know' brings the album to a close. It starts with some crackly static before a guitar that sounds rather like a harpsichord arrives with a picked line which feels like the 'round and round' of a music box. Hannah's vocal is very 'back' from the track and recorded in a distant fashion, which again lends to the music box feel. However, no chance of saccharine here as the lyrics are quite dark against the musical lightness. "But I have a secret, I don't really like it, but it's all that I know"

The only slight reservation I have about this CD concerns the very eclectic sound and many musical bases covered. I can see that this potentially would appeal to a wider audience but an inherent problem could be that of a core market or location becoming harder to find. For me, one of the attractions of the four songs I have spoken at length about is that there is less going on musically and all are recorded 'straight'. I would like to have seen this spread across all the tracks so there was more of a cohesive sound and less genre hopping maybe. However, I am also aware that is just personal preference and the commercial nature of several of these tracks cry out for radio play!

Of course, most people that buy this CD will do so without the information that accompanied this review copy. As sympathetically presented as this was, I have done my best to hear these songs without reference to that and listen with open ears and mind. Safe to say it has been a wonderful listen and as with all great songs, the stand out tracks here perhaps reveal themselves and speak to the audience in ways the writer had not originally intended.

This CD has clearly been a labour of love for both Hannah White and Nigel Stonier. Nine songs that display a great voice, assured song writing, lyrics of heartbreaking honesty and emotional force, balanced with other tracks that are commercial and sassy, but maybe never far from revealing their darker underbelly if prodded a little.

If the purpose of this album for Hannah was to start a conversation, it's already started!

Paul Jackson