MySetlist.co Review – Open Road by Hannah Fair

Cross-post from MySetlist.co.

I first crossed paths with Hannah Fair last summer at the inaugural Coventry Calling music fest where I was scheduled for a late-afternoon acoustic set of my own brand of melancholy Brit-folk-alternative, and Hannah was the next act on the bill.

It was a hot, sunny day, with a small, appreciative audience. Having spent the afternoon playing with my kids and some very energetic dogs, I rolled off stage kind of tired and worn out and building myself back up for the long drive home. Before I headed out, though, I got to see a good chunk of Hannah’s live set – that day featuring her on vocals and acoustic guitar, and an accompanying drummer. I enjoyed the set, and a flag was planted that I should watch for what came next.

Fast forward to a month or so ago, Hannah was one of the talented artists invited to play Sinner’s Circle here in New London, CT – a long-standing series of stripped-back, in the round performances, which has introduced me to some great musicians over the years.

And here was Hannah again, this time with a telecaster plugged straight into the PA

[as a committed tone-searcher, I usually wince at electric guitars going untreated – though I was pleasantly surprised on this occasion]

and here was the funny thing: alongside her voice, I recognized some of the songs.
Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you. But for any up-and-coming musician, especially in this digital, disposable age, getting a song to ‘stick’ is an endless challenge.

And Hannah Fair’s songs have the power to stick. A fact further proven by her recent release, Open Road.

As I got ready to write this piece, I struggled a little with how to convey this record. I get tired really quickly of reviewers who list endless comparator artists

[and who really are just trying to boost their own ego with an “I know so much more than you”]

and try to hold myself to not doing that. But I was also challenged by not being able to find the comparators. There’s something timeless in how Hannah blends blues, folk, jazz and rock – she tends to stay in the lower-register of her voice, which can prove both gentle and calming, before barking to a yelping, forceful affirmation. And when she dials back the assertiveness in her singing, as on the track Poor June, there’s an allure that is hard to resist – particularly with such beautiful vocal harmonies, arrangement and instrumentation.

Her songs show similar eclecticism, with tempo jumps and lyrical conceits aplenty. Over the course of the whole disc – 13 songs in total – I personally found this intensity maybe too much to take in one sitting, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that dropping into this record at any point – whether on shuffle, or a short car ride – rewards with committed and engaging song-craft. Once again, we musicians live in an age where a ‘whole listen in sequence’ is an increasingly rare beast – and Hannah has delivered songs here that feel like old friends, no matter when we bump into them!

This is a record that appeals on first listen, and ages well with each visit.

Lyrically, we walk familiar americana-country-folk territory – themes of ‘on the road’, ‘the devil’s own temptation’ and ‘the lessons of hard experience’ are visited – accompanied by the pre-requisite cast of musical instruments: acoustic and electric guitar, 1-5 bass, banjoes, etc. – and, while there’s a comfort in these settings, there’s also a curiosity for, and the challenges of, these journeys and their destinations.

Last summer, I planted a flag to follow what came next from Hannah Fair. This winter, it’s her record, Open Road. And, like the timeless revolution of the seasons, I look forward to what comes next from this already-accomplished artiste.

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