Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Lauren Housley - Sweet Surrender : Big Bad Recordings

The search for that genuine powerhouse vocalist to grace the UK Americana scene can be called off as Lauren Housley announces her formal arrival into the full length recording world. Her debut album SWEET SURRENDER has been a long time coming and any pain from the journey can be immediately extinguished right from the opening snippets of the first track. Where others pretend, Lauren mixes genuine gift, a keen ear and an authentic path to unleash a special record which has the potential to interest the mainstream, while being totally anchored to the terms of the untainted independent.

The rose colour of her home has switched from white to red over the formative years of a burgeoning career, but the prosperous blooming of the music should entail a nationwide interest for starters. Rather than hooking on one specific genre, Lauren draws upon inspiration from country, soul and blues to form this ten track collection, rich in fine song writing and utilising the collective authority of an established list of players to enhance the production. The hooks are rampant throughout the record with pedal steel weaving in and out of many tracks, supremely blended in places with Wurlitzer organ. Without a cover in sight there is a timeless magical appeal to Lauren’s songs which are all sung with incredible feeling and emotion.

Lauren and her long time musical collaborator Thomas Dibb have been writing songs for eight years so the journey to this release, and subsequent media attraction via Radio 2 interest, has been lengthy and no doubt fraught with many lows punctuating the highs. Both take equal credit for each of the ten tracks which are all presented free of pop pretence and serve a modern focal point to what constitutes a great song. Scanning down the list of players reveals two guys who have previously crossed my path both live and on record. Scott Poley recorded and toured with Cara Luft in the past, while Chris (CJ just to differentiate!) Hillman has proved an in-demand pedal steel guitarist, with Billy Bragg regularly using his services.

‘Nice to See Ya’ is an audibly moving song which announces the album’s arrival and sets the tone with a valid attempt at being the record’s ‘first among equals’. It definitely resides in the positive camp of songs as the album unveils as a mixture of the blue and brighter sides of life. To link in the more buoyant side to the writing of Lauren and Thomas, ‘All You Need is a Friend’ closes the record some forty minutes later in a similar state of mind and beautifully supported by a piano intro.

On the topic of great intros, what can go wrong with a blues-tinged harmonica one and the answer is nothing as evidenced by the title track ‘Sweet Surrender’. Sounding very much like Allison Moorer at her finest (and that’s high praise from this pen), the track oozes with a streak of southern charm that could have evolved from any point from Nashville, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana, but remains firmly entrenched in Manchester, UK. Alongside Ms. Moorer, the other contemporary vocalist who springs to mind when listening to Lauren is Jennifer Nettles, obviously minus the extreme southern twang, but with equal passion and fervour. ‘It Ain’t About You’ with its archetypical country theme of family disharmony is the song which probably best emphasises this comparison.

You can take your pick whether you prefer the upbeat or the ballad version of Lauren with the latter style being supported with a quartet of fine songs headed by another challenger to the best track mantle. ‘When Autumn Came’ is that killer classic sad song and the one where Hillman adds the steel as well as displaying the traits of a well written number in terms of lyrical make up. ‘Face the World’ is in true tear jerker mode where the steel merges extremely well with electric guitar. ‘If You Were Mine’ and the painstakingly heartfelt ballad ‘Show Me What Love is’ complete this quartet with the former being the most tender of the four.

The soulful side to the record excels in two tracks to take the record up to that desirably complete round number of ten. ‘The Waiting Game’ may be representative of the lead up to this release and its solid groove underpins a track heaving with wonderful Wurlitzer and a breezing input of horns. ‘Ghost Town Blues’ has been the song scheduled for commercial consideration and its soul stomping qualities house plenty of spotlight appeal. Think a little bit of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’ and you’ll be on the right track. A radio edit exists on some versions of the album, leaving a personal judgement on preference which from these quarters will always lean away from the orchestrated commercial.

It is an understatement to suggest that this record made a profound impact. The package is complete and Lauren makes a without compromise stab at stardom. There is ample substance to unite the ardent roots purist with the wider world and launch a talent deservedly of a larger platform. Whether this review waves Lauren Housley off into the commercial world remains to be seen, but being totally engrossed in SWEET SURRENDER has been a joyous experience. 

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