After her impressive debut four years ago with Portraits Hannah Rose Platt has released her second album, Letters Under Floorboards. Follow up albums can be fraught with risks; too much change, not enough etc, etc. Well, have no fear on that score here. With Letters Under Floorboards Hannah Rose Platt has added depth to her established songwriting talent by telling imaginative stories about a richly diverse bunch of characters as well as articulating her own experiences. There is a bigger sound this time both from her wider vocal range and a first class group of backing musicians.
‘Illuminates’ shows how Platt adapts her voice, more typically accompanied only by acoustic guitar, fronting a band thus creating a new bigger sound. With some perfectly layered production the result is a confident, powerful country opener that immediately commands full attention.
‘Chanel and Cigarettes’ as a title alone raises an eyebrow. Platts takes this new fulsome vibe further as she draws the listener “into a crowded bar/a worn out man/with a broken down car/at least that’s what he told his wife back home”. If that’s not a sufficient clue then “there she stood/across the bar/like a 1930’s movie star” Platt’s silky voice and her band take the listener through the torment of impulse and regret.
Another ‘story’ song is ‘Brooklyn, New York’, a tale of deepening despondency seen through the letters from an Irish immigrant worker to his love back home. From the hope of “it won’t be long ’till/you’re here with me” as he makes his way in the promised land. To a mournful penny whistle and accordian, Platt reveals those dreams seeping away as a year of punishing work brings his love no nearer and he cannot afford to go home.
Also on the pioneering theme, ‘I Will Tell You When’ is a a heart-wrenching dialogue between Platt, the innocent daughter asking her farmer father (Sid Griffin) why “the sky has turned so dark?” He can scarcely bring himself to tell her how the locusts have wiped out all his work.
If you’ve ever wondered if those storms that get names really do take on a personality then listen to ‘When Audrey Comes To Call’. Such is the tension in the song’s build up that it’s easy to assume Audrey is some unpopular relative coming to visit. It turns out Audrey is a hurricane and Platts so ingeniously describes her malevolence and destruction as if she was some hateful old creature.
Platts is expert in conveying other peoples’ perspectives but when digging into her own experience she does more than tell a story. No matter how painful though, Platts never once slips into self pity. In ‘Sculptor’ she compares the relentless belittling of a controlling relationship to a sculptor’s chiseling. A gentle tempo, “chip, chip away at her vigour” leaves her diminished and helpless.
Platts continues that sense of entrapment in ‘Checkmate’ as she matches the fragility of her stalemate with a voice that trembles with apprehension. ‘To Love You’ laments the impossibility of carrying on as she can take no more, “and I swear this will be the last time/ I play this game with you”. Again Platts ranges from almost capitulation to defiance. Oppression continues in ‘Black Smoke’ where Platts deals with how a good natured smile is misinterpreted as much more and the deeply unpleasant consequences. She stands up to this bullying, unwanted attention with a voice alone that says back off. The band accompany with similar defiance. For this and throughout, a big shout-out must go to producer and guitarist Thomas Collison and all the musicians with special mention to Joe Bennett (strings) and Henry Senior (pedal steel).
The completeness of Letters Under Floorboards should be more than enough to propel this engaging artist to a far wider audience. Platts has been described as a ‘young north of England Emmylou Harris’. Undeniably this is a demanding comparison, but after listening to Letters Under Floorboards it’s hard to dispute.