Bella Hardy – Hey Sammy
Noe Records – 24 November 2017
Created with the aid of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Bella Hardy’s new album is filled with a new-found freedom. Without any feeling of being constrained by a particular genre, Hardy allows herself the opportunity to write songs born out of inspiration, not afraid to show the influence of the places she has visited. While 2015’s acclaimed With the Dawn still had its roots in the folk tradition, Hey Sammy reveals Hardy’s versatility and shows that she’s not afraid to step outside her comfort zone.
Writing in collaboration with Nashville producers Peter Groenwald and Konrad Snyder, jazz pianist Tom Gibbs, and guitarist Iain Thomson as well as songs she has written alone, Hardy has produced a collection of tracks that show a still growing maturity.
The opening track, Redemption, carries echoes of some of her work on the Eternal Spring album released earlier this year, a collaborative recording born out of her residency in the Chinese city of Kunming.
Learning to Let Go gives the first hint that this is a very different kind of album for Hardy though, with its sparse backing that slowly builds into a something bigger. This is Hardy performing with a band, or more accurately, as part of a band. The musicians aren’t just there to support Hardy, they are playing together and for each other.
Iain Thomson’s, Robert Fripp-like spiky guitar work on Driving Through Harmony (on which he shares writing credits) is echoed on piano by Tom Gibbs to create a jazz-infused piece reminiscent of King Crimson’s output of the 1980s.
Queen of Carter’s Bar, a re-working of the supernatural ballad Tam Lin is proof, if any was needed, that Hardy has not left her folk roots behind. We find ourselves in Carter’s Bar instead of Carterhaugh and rather than supernatural shapeshifting, this is a story of someone pretending to be something he’s not.
In My Dreams has the feel of a lullaby and yet is full of sweeping, layered vocals that carry the listener along.
You Don’t Owe the World Pretty is one of the real triumphs of the album and perhaps hints at what Hardy may be capable of. The song is a piece of advice to girls everywhere, telling them that they don’t have to strive to meet other people’s expectations, it’s far more important to be yourself and give your best. In a way. This is exactly what Hardy is doing on this release. Rather than putting out an album that she knows would please her fans she has produced something that she wanted to make. A catchy song that reminded me of some of the best of The Lightning Seeds and that’s not a bad thing.
Busy Head and Heartbreaker (both written with Tom Gibb) begin as more laid-back numbers which build to more powerful arrangements with a soaring electric guitar which stretch and challenge Hardy’s voice, but it is up to the job.
Lyrically, Hey Sammy does what folk music does best, shining a light on society’s shortcomings and injustices. The spotlight, in this case, falls on the rise of post-referendum racism, particularly its effect on children. A solo Bella Hardy might have given this a simple arrangement put here the band really hits its stride. It’s hard to imagine Hardy jumping up and down and clapping her hands above her head in front of thousands of revellers at Glastonbury, but it certainly has that kind of feel.
South Lake contains some of the best lines, a poem set to music as much as a song that could so easily have been a Joni Mitchell track.
Stars closes the album and unexpectedly brings the whole thing together. Opening with another piece inspired by her experiences in China the almost ethereal backing is built around a simple three-note motif that grows into another upbeat number. At first, it sounded like it could have been a completely separate song until the same motif establishes itself. It’s a real East meets West composition that works wonderfully. I must have played this song on repeat a dozen time and then couldn’t get it out of my head.
Supporters of the Kickstarter should be delighted with the results of the project. It’s the kind of album that needs to be played a couple of times to really get the feel of it, but then it becomes hard to want to listen to anything else. If this gets anywhere the amount of airplay it deserves it could well win Hardy a host of new fans.
Hey Sammy is out now. Order it here https://bellahardy.lnk.to/heysammy
Photo: Sam Telford (Kartel)