'Words'-E.P. Review- 9.5/10
Attitude, passion, beauty, and a wonderful voice, make for an intoxicating blend...
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She has the talent, voice and ability to turn guts into glory...
and 'Words' is certainly capable of helping Hannah achieve this. It boasts a range of sounds, styles, and vocals, and will keep you gripped from start to finish. It is a powerful edict, from a musician who shows innovation and a restless desire to make engaging and relatable music. The E.P. is the summation of this, and a brilliant testimony from a bold new artist.
Hannah Dorman is currently studying at Guildford's A.C.M., but has been making and releasing music for a little while now. She has garnered glowing reviews from publications such as Under The Radar, and Surge, and rightly so. Her influences and style is mainly American-influenced, infused with shades of The Pretty Reckless and Shania Twain. However, she is so much more than the sum of her parts, and has produced an E.P. that far surpasses the aforementioned U.S. talent.
New music; and especially good new music, seems to be part of a wider entropy within the industry. The vast majority of memorable releases tend to derive from exisiting and established acts. Young artists such as Ke$ha and One Direction seem to be 90% marketing and image, with a perilous lack of teeth, talent and sustainability. For those who are seeking credibility beyond their ken, a prudent starting block would be 'Words'.
I have recently had the pleasure of reviewing a fellow A.C.M. alum, Chess (Fran Galea), and have been refreshed by her unique talent, and originality. Like Chess, Hannah shares many similar qualities: original songs, incredible vocal range and a redolent, incredible beauty too. I was excited to listen to 'Words' to see whether another gem was nestling within A.C.M.'s walls. I was not disapointed!
The title track is first up on the block, and my it begins with a bang. It is an anthem of the vicissitudes of love and life, and the perils of a difficult paramour. Boasting an impressive and tattoo-covered guitar introduction, the song swaggers into view, fetlocks gleaming. As it ends and graduates into a softer strum, Hannah's voice pervades; resembling a mix of The Pretty Reckless and a young Patti Smith- smoky, and bold. Her voice rises and growls, before drums and guitar kick up into top gear. It is a fist-pumping and rebellious shift that allows Hannah to show off her razor edge tones. It is a song that plays about the quiet-loud principle, used by bands such as Pixies. Just when you think the pace is softening and relaxed, the chorus explodes and tips you over the edge. It is not a device employed a lot in modern music, especially in country rock. If anything, it would have been nice for perhaps more volume. The track has such a sense of purpose and edge, perhaps multi-layered guitars or a bigger rush would have added even more tension and spirit. It ends with a Feel Good Hit of the Summer-esque distortion, and walks away, waiting for you to clean the blood, sweat and tears from the floor. The song deals a lot with transformation: 'Things aren't the same/you know it's all changed' and recrimination: 'you'll never listen'. During the choruses, and in places, the song ressembles early Nirvana, circa 'Nevermind' (Lithium, Come As You Are. In fact the intro sounds more akin to In Bloom). I can hear shades of early Muse too. It swings and punches, and allows not only Hannah to impress, but also her band to do so, who are tight, and do great justice to the song. 'Words' is a rally cry, and mission statement- one which kicks the E.P. off in brilliant, definant fashion.
With a rumbling, and twangy intro, which reminds me very much of The Libertines' tracks 'Narcissist' 'The Ha Ha Wall' and 'I Get Along'; 'In My Place' introduces itself with a certain enigmatic majesty. 'It doesn't feel real/It doesn't feel right' Hannah intones, backed by a propulsive drum roll (similar to that of a marching band). Again, it is a track that flowers from rock roots, and although Hannah's voice has clear country overtones, it also shares similarities with modern artists such as Rhianna. The track is more relaxed and luscious than 'Words', and the combination of soulful vocals and a propellant, yet unobtrusive drum beat, work splendidly. This song also is the closest thing to country rock. It has a whisp of Nashville, but its heart and soul is firmly rooted in Blighty. The song demonstrates a presageful message, and 'the thought at me at my happiest/makes me know I'm going to miss this' is a reoccurring coda. Towards the 3 minute mark the chorus is brought more into focus. Hannah's vocal sparks as the drum beat behind her tees her up into the stratosphere. You can hear an audible dropping to the knees, as she declares that things will not be the same 'with somebody else in my place'. The spirit of Taylor Swift watches over the song, except on this song the tone and decleration is more grown-up, and the effect more profound. It does not descend into commercialism or crassness; just pure and honest. For anyone who even has a passing interest in effective and simple storytelling, this is the de facto frontrunner.
'Bring It Back' gets to the races straight away. Hannah's vocals are more rapid-fire in the opening stages; syncopated and flowing, it is backed by staccato guitar. The lyrics, 'Bring it back to me/Bring it back to you/Don't bring it back to her/'cause you know what she'll do', is the framework for the chorus, and is a strong-headed request, countered with a controlled and composed vocal. As the chorus departs, Hannah's vocals again show hints of Rhianna but with greater grit, passion and range. There is a pleasing mix of vocal mitosis, sweet wordlessness and a barb wired drawl. There is no ululation; just a measured and self-assured performance. The song itself deals with trust and wondering whether an unnamed suitor can be trusted. The track has a catchiness to it, and the chorus will lodge itself in your brain, and not shift. The band again is right on it, and superb, but the star of the show is the vocal, which goes from a delicate whisper to powerful belt within the space of mere seconds; and makes 'Bring It Back' a contender for best song of the quartet. Clocking in at just over 3 minutes long, it is very businesslike and does not allow for any wasted words or breath.
As we come to land, 'Maybe' is the E.P.'s swansong, and is altogether a more laid-back and gentle beast. It will be very much pleasing to the conservatoire in you. Beginning with an acoustic strum and a delicate and breathy vocal from Hannah, the song seems to deal with longing, with a hint of regret. She proclaims that she never lets go, and wonders: 'Maybe you are here/...just maybe you're still near'. The lyrics talk of how her beau looked at her like she was 'one in a million', but now he does not feel that way, with the question posed: 'Is there something I should know?' The underlying message is that, in spite of it all: all doubts, mystery and changes, she will never give in, and keep holding on. In a sense 'Maybe' shares a lot in common with artists such as K.T. Tunstall and Jessie Ware. It has the same sort of stripped back sound, and yet is more accomplished and compelling than the former, and an equal of the latter, too. It is a great track and leaves questions posed and unanswered, perhaps opening the door for answers to be revealed in E.P. number 2...?
Overall there are many strengths on display. From such a young artist, the material is exceptionally mature and accomplished. Hannah has not simply done what others do or expect from her. She is forging her own path, and although her influences are clear, she has great originality and her words, her voice and her style are hers alone. The title of the E.P. is apropos wholly indicative of the overall theme. Each song seems to deal with words: how they are used, words that should and should not have been said, and what could be said later. It holds everything together brilliantly. Special mention goes firstly to the band. During the first 3 tracks they are a tight and galvanised rock group, helping to elevate lyrics and vocals alike, but never intrusive or overbearing. Similarly to Jeff Buckley, the figurehead and voice is king, but the band accompanying that are by no means inferior. The production is also impressive and not overly done. The sounds are mixed brilliantly and the whole E.P. has a professional and slick feel to it, without feeling fake or lacking in any area. The track order is perfect and well balanced too, and the songs focused- they do not allow themselves to wallow or outstay their welcome. The music is full of vivid imagery, as well as straightforward emotional impact, and wears its heart firmly on its sleeves.
I honestly can't think of any negatives, to be fair. I was truly impressive right from the first few seconds. I hope that in the coming months there will be more to hear, as I think that Hannah has a lot of ideas, and has a clear desire to stick around for many, many years to come. As a singer-songwriter myself, I was very impressed by her composition skills as well as her vocal range. She has a brilliant girl-next-door image: gorgeous but obtainable, which lends an authentic air of conviction to the proceedings. For all the plastic pop and hernia-inducing spew brought forth by many artists floating listlessly around the charts fishbowl, Hannah deserves to supersede them and show how it is done. If I had to conjure a suggestion, I would love to hear more tracks like Maybe. The E.P. reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age's magnum opus, 'Rated R'. That album could skip from head-exploding rock thrash, to acoustic relaxing, to twisted metal disco. You never know what was coming next, and the experience was all the more unadulterated for it. 'Words' shifts in the same manner, and were there another track like 'Maybe', sandwiched between tracks 1 and 2, it would have created the same spellbinding effect. You have to draw the line though, but if a full album were a possibility, I would definitely love to hear a similar bait-and-switch agenda. Also, I was extremely impressed by the guitar work throughout, and if there was a way of hearing more of this in a future release, I would be a happy fan, indeed.
Hannah Dorman is a name you won't, and shouldn't forget any time soon. She has been promoting this E.P. since its release a few months ago, and has been touring staunchly. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she has the talent, voice and image to make it very big indeed. If you're a fan of strong female talent, and in fact, music itself, check out 'Words'...
... because this kind of music comes around very rarely, indeed.
Key Tracks: 'Words', 'Bring It Back'.
The Star, Guildford as part of ACM Fringe Festival.
The Boileroom, Guildford (supporting Marc Moriss of The Bluetones).
The Bench Bar, Surrey Sports Park, Guildford.
Guildford Fringe Festival (outside New Look).