London – Young Runaway is the second studio album from young English singer-songwriter Hattie Briggs, following her acclaimed 2015 full-length debut, Red & Gold. In a revealing testament to her art, Briggs dropped out of university (Oxford, no less) two and a half years ago to pursue a full-time musical career. On the evidence of this latest record, which is packed with agreeably accessible songs, impeccably arranged and sung with purity, it was an astute throw of the dice. Contributing guitar, keys, and ukulele alongside her crystalline vocals on the album, Briggs adds considerable musicality to her approachable songwriting.
Despite occasionally toying with self-doubt in her lyrics, there is a confidence and sheen to Young Runaway that, unlike the hint in the album title, suggests she is here to stay. A sense of serenity permeates the elemental opening song, “The Lake,” written while the artiste was on holiday at Lake Garda, Italy. The song gathers momentum midway, as a imaginative string section kicks in leading to a sharp crescendo, before the waters calm once more; a reminder of nature’s volatility alongside its stillness and beauty. It is followed by “Lift Me Up,” a gently reflective song that has much in common musically with the late Sandy Denny’s solo catalogue. It speaks eloquently of the duality of the journey; a sense of expectation tinged with the regret of leaving in lines like, “My mind’s on tomorrow, my eyes on the wing / A fear of the future, it’s about to begin.”
The journey continues as Hattie Briggs embraces more of an Americana vibe on the “Here’s To Hoping.” It’s probably the most radio-friendly cut here, given extra studio polish to match the optimism of looking forward. A touch of pedal steel guitar neatly compliments the lyrical notion of a nostalgic trip back to the old family home, while Briggs’ vocals are sharply defined. The layering on the recorded version is obviously absent in this live version, yet the strength of the songwriting and vocal delivery shines through.
“Have We Met Before” sees Briggs looking back on chance meetings and their positive consequences in a wistful duet with the song’s co-writer, Jack Cookson. Following a couple of lighter weight numbers, the song makes for an intimate bridge to what for me is the album’s highpoint. That pinnacle is reached with the immeasurably beautiful and emotive “Castle On The Sand,” which again puts me in mind of Sandy Denny’s solo work in the lushness of the string arrangement and the subtle chord changes employed. Once again, the interplay of strings, guitar, and pedal steel is flawless. Maybe it’s the very opening piano chords that recall “Goodbye To Love,” but Hattie Briggs’ bell-like vocal has something of the quality of Karen Carpenter, not least in its ability to draw tears as she voices a fragile sense of hope: “Welcome to my castle on the sand / Oh look on as the grains pour softly through my hands / And where they fall, I’ll start, on the walls of my heart / And rebuild them till again they’re torn apart.”
A different facet to Hattie Briggs emerges in the treatment afforded to “Talk To Me” with its stark beats and synth and vocal overlays. The song seeks to inspire rather than preach, to comfort and reassure, and it succeeds admirably. Throughout the record, Briggs is able to pull together strands of acoustic-based music, from folk to country and pop to Americana, without hanging around long enough to be labeled as one or the other. It is a consummate work that deserves to be heard far and wide. On an album where the temptation is to review every song, maybe the last word should be with the artiste. Hattie Briggs talks about the stories behind her songs in the video above. After that, just buy the record!
Young Runaway is out now and available for purchase on iTunes. Forthcoming gigs and news about Hattie Briggs can be found on her Facebook page.
Photos of Hattie Briggs by Ian Wallman, IWPhotographic.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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