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Hannah Williams & The Affirmations Scale Even Greater Musical Heights with ’50 Foot Woman’ | Album Review
October 16, 2019 Patrick Corcoran
Hannah Williams’ first two albums (2012’s A Hill of Feathers and 2016’s Late Nights & Heartbreak) were recorded with two different bands (The Tastemakers and The Affirmations, respectively), but the single unifying feature of these releases is the voice of the groups’ leader. And what a voice it is. Capable of sliding effortlessly from a deep, soulful growl to a heart-stopping, piercing wail, Williams offers many opportunities for spine-tingling sensations.
While Williams & The Affirmations’ career was progressing well, things went a bit stratospheric for the group courtesy of global music behemoth Jay-Z. A phone call from Roc Nation asking for the group’s blessing to use “Late Nights & Heartbreak” on Jay-Z’s soul saving, confessional masterpiece “4:44” saw a whole new audience bear witness to Williams’ thrilling vocals and the intense drama of the musical arrangement.
What now awaits new ears and those already attuned to the group’s many charms, is 50 Foot Woman, another fine album of soul music retro-fitted with the same ebullient musicality as their forebears such as the sadly departed Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. What marks it as different from previous releases is a sharper focus across the whole album, resulting in the wise truncating of songs that may have previously meandered, albeit pleasantly enough, into extended jam territory.
The Affirmations for their part are as tight as you would want for a soulful funk outfit, brandishing horns with a restrained muscularity and a rhythm section that powers the band forward like a steam engine with a fully fired up boiler. On board this time though, is producer Shawn Lee, who brings his wealth of experience (Lana Del Rey, Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse, Money Mark and Georgia Anne Muldrow) to add further depths to the proceedings.
It is revealed, upon first listen, that an extensive touring schedule and a raised profile has translated into a euphoric nine-piece that bristles with confidence. The title track “50 Foot Woman” is a foot-stomping, Northern Soul ode to the awesome power of a fully operational super woman. The next track, “I Can’t Let This Slip Away,” is a swaggering lesson in not letting opportunities pass you by. Both songs offer ample opportunity for Williams to showcase her soulful growl, but come balanced with a restraint that hints at more to come.
2020 has been a struggle for musicians to say the least. Almost every live music venue in the world has shut down, and there is a huge uncertainty as to when we'll be able to gig properly again. But with all the issues an intense lockdown period brings, there are some positives. It's helped us gain perspective. Through spending more time at home were able to think more clearly, and get inspired again through having the time to focus. And all of this creates great music. The Affirmations have always created music live, with the band all in a room together. Because this isn't possible, we have to come up with new ways to write and arrange our music, and this is what I've been getting excited about. Through the few ideas we've put together recently, it seems the music will take an interesting turn. Hopefully we'll be able to show you all a few clips of what we've been up real soon.
On the eve of the lockdown period, an old friend of mine Rhii Williams (who is an amazing drummer, check out her band here they're awesome Little Thief) came over and urged me to post some piano videos. I didn't have much going on, obviously, so I thought I'd give it a go. Through making the first video I realised that the only people who have actually heard me play these pieces were close friends and family(!) So it was an incredibly enlightening experience to share them with all of you for the first time. Thank you Rhii for inspiring me to do this! I'm going to continue to post the 'Isolation Piano Times' videos throughout the lockdown period, and hopefully once were out the otherside I'll continue to share videos with you too. Thank you everybody for the support so far x