The only way for an artist keen to explore new ideas at leisure is to build your own studio. That is what Lauren Housley and husband Tom Dibb did and the result is Housley’s recently released Girl From The North. From the Americana, country core of her first two albums, and very fine they are too, she has added New Orleans blues and soul and some psychedelic folk to her repertoire. Girl From The North is a glorious round of genres pulled together by Housley’s rich vocals.
Where is this studio you may ask? The clue is in the album’s title; it is in Rotherham. Housley is from Yorkshire and after having lived in Manchester she returned to her roots. She, Tom and some of the band built the studio a couple of minutes walk from her home. Though she had written much of the album already, having her own place allowed her to experiment with her songs, trying out various versions until she and Tom were completely happy with every last detail. And it shows, being able to try out new ideas has added further dimension to Housley’s sound.
And what is Housley’s new sound? It’s big, by all accounts in inverse proportion to the dimensions of the studio. Her influences are the best guide; Carole King, Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crowe definitely, Joni too and James Taylor, Ray Charles, Shelby Lynne, Shawn Colvin, Gillian Welch and one that hit this reviewer immediately, Susan Tedeschi!
That’s a lot to draw from but where Housley excels is in the way she melds such a swathe of influences into her own original sound, from anthem to the lightest sensitivity.
There is a feeling of gradually waking up and coming to about opener ‘Bless His Soul’ which perhaps is not surprising as the lyric was inspired by a dream. A gentle intro leads into a morning stretch both sonically and vocally. ‘Guaranteed Sunshine’ gleams with joy. A folky vibe around which producer Tom has layered rich guitars and backing vocals into a song with enough space to fill an arena. The brightest beam of course is Housley’s voice, “You’re my guaranteed sunshine/ every morning, noon and night”.
Housley has twice performed at Folk Alliance international, most recently in New Orleans last year just before lockdown. ‘What’s Troubling You Child?’ would trace her roots there rather than Yorkshire. This is the Tedeschi connection, a luscious blues/soul vocal with big band horns in the background. The tempo and atmosphere match the sultry heat of the Big Easy. Check out the video.
‘Sing To Me’ is a sweet lullaby, again very fitting as Housley became a mum last year. Peaceful and delicate, there is enough to soothe the most fractious without disappearing completely into the ethereal swirl. The folky psychedelia propels ‘Breakdown’ further into a dreamland as Housley gives her voice an eerie timbre a theme completed by ‘Two Lovers Lost in Space’.
Though written before the pandemic struck, the pop of ‘This Ain’t the Life’ sums up perfectly the frustrations of lockdown. The airy, carefree tempo flip, “I am crying out for a change/ For a new life today/ It’s waiting there for me in my hand”, into a song of fun.
‘We’re Not Backing Down’ is the stadium anthem. A powerful country pop beat stretches Housley’s vocal range further still. Layers of backing vocals and guitars create an impressive effect. ‘Why Are We Making it So Hard?’ is in a similar vein although perhaps with greater contrast between verse and chorus.
Not only has the Girl From the North gone back to her roots in terms of home, she has also dug deeply into her musical roots to reveal several new layers that combine the old with the new. This is Lauren Housley’s best yet and a glowing testament to the quality of Americana and country artists from this side of the Pond.
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