OK, I am officially jealous: here is a lady who started her own band at the age of eight, played private shows for Brian Johnson’s (yes, that one) vintage car team when she was thirteen, went on to support Starship and Kansas amongst others and now has her third album on release…and she is still only twenty-two! As Hannah Wicklund and the Steppin’ Stones go eponymous.
I was in a band when I was a teenager and played to numerous indifferent audiences never managing to supplant the bingo! Oh, and by the way, her Mother painted the portrait on the new album cover…something else I am incapable of.
This South Carolina born whirlwind of the guitar is only just beginning to impinge on the UK consciousness as, unbelievably, she is still self-releasing and surely a major label will put this right very soon…there are many less talented that have contracts. This latest, self-titled album has been available for a while in the US and is now here…it follows Looking Glass from 2013 and Steppin’ Stones from 2015. Two tracks get a worthwhile revisit and update to add an extra edginess that wasn’t so apparent in the originals, so even if you have copies of Looking Glass and Mama Said, it’s still worth getting these new upgraded versions.
Anyway, on to the music, and the first track Bomb Through The Breeze is onomatopoeic…her voice blasts over the intro and then the quieter riff breezes in and it is delicious. The shame is the overplayed and/or to high in the mix crash cymbals because the rest is of such a high quality and the wah’d solo is a short and sweet exercise between more traditional electric chords and picking. Ghost slows down and lays back as we get a simple but oh so effective two-note and one chord backing to a neat vocal melody which, like the more powerful approach of the first track, Hannah handles with aplomb. The addition of the piano adds a little depth and atmosphere behind the voice and lovely guitar runs between the lyrics. When the chorus cuts in it is in danger of becoming a bit poppy but then there is an exquisite solo that would rarely appear in that genre. Looking Glass is a near ballad but the weight of the chords after the intro and the keyboards lift it to a lighter waving epic…or, since such things are frowned upon these days, an iPhone waving epic; although my iPhone can’t light my ciggies so the lighter will never be replaced in my world! The solo is a sort of Joey B meets Wilko in a great combination of blues and R’n’B. Mama Said is the second update and this is now a soulful bit of blues-rock and is Hannah at her most complex with layers of brilliant electric and subtle acoustic all building around a beautiful riff and chorus…the solo is inventive and (surprise!) way too short. On The Road is next and takes us into a very typical modern female pop vocal style that jars a bit for me although it has the excellent backing of weighty and simple chord patterns…mind you, in saying that, it does grow and the solo at the bridge is very bluesy a la Marsden and saves and lifts it to more than acceptable. Crushin’ is a different kettle all together as the power trio feel is there with a solid drum and bass pattern anchoring the song for Hannah to strike the chords and add in tasty flourishes and put in a solo that is inventive and has some delicious bends. Strawberry Moon has just voice and guitar in the intro and, when the bass and drums cut in, they leave plenty of room for Hannah to show her vocal prowess, as even though the backing guitar is sparse, it is effective. The solo is one of her best as it is actually talking to you with the simple but effective spread of notes and no temptation to overplay. Too Close To You ups the pace a little and has a neat guitar progression that you could imagine Lenny Kravitz coming up with and it has clever variations slotted in here and there to prevent it becoming repetitive; the solo is another inventive piece that plays games with the melody and works well. Meet You Again changes the tone, after a quiet intro of vocal and guitar, to more heavyweight blues with a hint of southern buried in the sound. If I ignore the Zeppelin echoes, this is a sparse, heavy and quality slice of electric blues, especially with the (too short) Bonamassa styled solo. The final track has the fascinating title of Shadowboxes And Porcelain Faces and, although it has a more commercial slant it still entertains with its acoustic phrases and manages to sound a bit like fluffy Mac as opposed to Green Mac. It is a quiet way to end an album that is all power prior to this, but it is still rather nice.
Vocally she can do Lizzy to Pink to Samantha and always in keeping and always a delight; on guitar, she has that all-important feel and never needs to go widdly and never plays more notes than the composition needs. The tone she elicits from, I am told, a custom Tom Anderson guitar pushed through Orange amps is always captivating. This is a powerful, wide-ranging third album that repays after numerous listens as the depth and emotion that runs through every track can be missed if you just hear and don’t listen. I can confidently say that her music will grow from this and continue to get better and better as she takes her rightful place in the hierarchy of the blues-rock world.
(By the way, that band I was in was never going to make it…I was, and still am, a mediocre guitar player and, having heard this young lady, I will have to re-categorise that to very mediocre!)
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
RELEASED IN THE UK ON FRIDAY 13th SEPTEMBER
- Bomb Through The Breeze
- Looking Glass
- Mama Said
- On The Road
- Strawberry Moon
- Too Close To You
- Meet You Again
- Shadowboxes And Porcelain Faces
>Recorded in Nashville and produced by Sadler Vaden
The album dovetails her nationwide UK Roadstars Tour with Piston & Gorilla Riot in October. Book Tickets for the UK tour via Planet Rock Tickets / The Gig Cartel or from the 24-hour box office: 08444 780 898.