If I thought anything on this earth could budge the monolithic gravitas of The Dap Queen, Sharon Jones, I would say “Move over, Sharon – there’s a new capital-S Soul Diva on the block.” But of course, the leader of the mighty Dap Kings and figurehead of the New Deep Soul Revival will not and cannot be moved.
But if there was anyone who could shift her, it just might be Hannah Williams. The young British singer and her tough-as-brass-tacks band, The Tastemakers have a raw urgency that might rattle even Jones and Co. Not that Jones is worried – she, as well as soul magi such as Charles Bradley and UK DJ Craig Charles, has voiced her support of the young singer, calling her “blessed”.
And blessed Williams is – blessed with a voice that calls to mind the more declamatory and rough-edged styles of Etta James and even Betty Davis. No Nu-Soul here: smooth she ain’t – it’s cat-scratch and big-woman blues all the way. Strong, strident and down-town – I fear a blast from Williams could shrivel the most bullying man (and most of the Nu-Soul divas twittering way in their gilded cages these days…).
Italian record label Record Kicks has a good ear for Soul – they release Sydney’s own soul superheroes Dojo Cuts (see my review here). Record Kicks have now taken on Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers’ debut, A Hill of Feathers.
What draws me to any of the New Deep Soul Revival recordings, from the Dap Kings onwards, is the wonderfully “live” production feel they go for and achieve. This music is as emotive as the most electrifying blues (from which, of course, it takes and alchemises so much) so, to bury all that blood, sweat and tears under a pile of plastic midi-beats and AutoTune would be criminal. A huge appeal of Amy Winehouse’s 2006 smash Back To Black was producer Mark Ronson’s wise choice to use the Dap-Kings as the living, breathing backbone to the music.
Williams’ band, the eight-piece Tastemakers, led by guitarist Hillman Mondegreen, is the Stax-classic two-horns plus rhythm with two backing vocalists. Mondegreen’s smarts allow this format to simmer under a moody blues – such as the indigo opener to A Hill of Feathers, ‘Work It Out’ (with added strings) – as well as cut up the 16ths in a funk workout such as ‘Do Whatever Makes You Feel Hot’. The band’s feature piece, the instrumental ‘Things To Come’ is a nice piece of showing off that you don’t mind at all.
Lyrically there are some spots where the attitude may be from the same bygone-age as the patina of the music – ‘The Kitchen Strut’s “I’m getting out of your kitchen/And into your bed” seems to not really apply these days, but Williams delivers it with such right-on clout, I think I would be hesitant to ask her to pass the salt.
Every track on A Hill of Feathers has me asking again “Where the hell do all these amazing singers come from?” For every X-Factor cookie-cut kiddie band we have an Adele or a Melody Gardot to carry the music forward.
And now we have Hannah Williams and her kick-ass band. I have seen the future and it is not AutoTuned.
Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers’ A Hill of Feathers is released 15 November 2012.
Record Kicks website is http://www.recordkicks.com/