Monday, 27 June 2016

Album Review- Young Runaway by Hattie Briggs

Young Runaway by Hattie Briggs, Released 8th July 2016

The last two and half years have been a significant time for Sussex born, but now Stroud based, singer-songwriter Hattie Briggs. Since January 2014, when she decided to quit her Oxford University degree course, she has been nominated for the Radio 2 Young Folk Award; played more than 200 gigs; and released relatively unknown, but critically acclaimed debut album Red & Gold. Now, fifteen months on from her debut, she is poised to release the follow up: Young Runaway.
Hattie at the Young Runaway launch, March 2016

Once again the album is produced by Peter Waterman who at 28 and still a relative newcomer in the music industry; is proof that it is not always age and experience but ideas and innovation which achieve the greatest results. Whilst Young Runaway is not a drastic departure from Red & Gold there has been progression in both depth and breadth of content and instrumentation.

The title is a reference to the James Taylor song My Travelling Star; in a similar way that the title of Hattie’s debut was taken from the Eva Cassidy song Autumn Leaves. Both singers are a clear influence on this album. The title of Young Runaway reflects the theme of the album: breaking free from the past and making the most of life.

The opening song The Lake is beautiful and atmospheric; gentle swaying cellos and flickering ukulele strings are layered to perfection. They bring to life the feeling of gliding on a placid lake, cleansing of the soul and awakening to a new beginning.

The lyrics of her previous album focused on times of uncertainty, soul searching and sadness. Now her glass is half full rather than half empty. This is directly addressed in the words of Here’s To Hoping; “… kept up the struggle and now I have won…” The instrumentation too matches the lyrics; guitar, piano and cellos remain but the introduction of ukulele and pedal steel adds buoyancy to the songs. This is most notable on Summertime Man which the listener is transported to sun-kissed beaches, palm tree lined avenues and cloudless skies. It is perfect for the album’s July release.

The theme of transition is relayed on Lift Me Up representing the journey Hattie has been on, places she has seen and moving on to the next phase of her life. The lyrics of On Your Way and You Only Live Once focus on putting worries aside and seizing the moment, “ … no regrets is a great place to be…”  and “… so make this life your kind, I intend to live mine…” . Talk To Me feels like Hattie is reciting a letter to herself and the listener “…start your healing here…” giving others hope that if everything worked out for her then there is light at the end of the tunnel in dark times.

Those listening out for the mournful sentiment of Hattie’s previous album will discover them in Castle On The Sand, a tale of a friend’s repeated heartbreak. The sorrow takes its toll on its subject, as her life crumbles away like a ruined sand castle, “…watch as the grains fall softly through my hands…” The strength in Hattie’s words feels like they can rebuild even the most fragmented soul. 

One of the strongest tracks is Have We Met Before? ; based on the notion that fate can intervene in the strangest but best of ways. It is co-written and performed with recent Young Folk Award nominee Jack Cookson. As stand alone singers they are impressive but Jack’s spine-tingly voice and Hattie’s pure vocals harmonise perfectly.   

Final track The River is similar to The Lake because it creates the feeling of water, refreshing and renewing life. The sound of waterfalls and birds at the end of the song were possibly inspired by indie-folk band Stornoway; they use sounds of nature and wildlife in their music and whom Hattie supported on tour at the end of last year.  It draws to a cohesive conclusion to a more concise collection of songs.

Although she is now a quarter of the way through her 20’s at 23 (22 at time of writing and recording) Hattie Briggs is far from a quarter life crisis. She has been through struggle and emerged with a clearer direction and sense of determination than ever before. Comparisons can even be drawn to Adele’s 25, not in vocal style; but when listening to Young Runaway you feel like you are sharing a defining period of Hattie’s life. Hattie could have almost named the album “22”.  Young Runaway is accessible for all ages but for young women in their twenties trying to find their way in life it is both aspirational and inspirational.

For an album which begins with The Lake and ends with The River Hattie Briggs is no longer lost at sea; she is sailing on, to oceans of opportunities.

Key Tracks: The Lake, Here’s To Hoping, Have We Met Before?, You Only Live Once