Almost three years have passed since Hannah Williams and The Affirmations released their first album together, Late Nights & Heartbreak. Williams’ second album overall and her first with her then new backing band The Affirmations, that album proved to be one of 2016’s best surprises. The group’s latest album 50 Foot Woman picks up right where Late Nights & Heartbreak left off, proving to be one of 2019’s best surprises. It is one of those rare records that listeners will be pleased to find can play from start to end without skipping even one song. The album’s opener and title track is just one of the songs that serves to support that statement. It will be addressed shortly. ‘The Only Way Out Is Through’ does just as much as the album’s opener to show how enjoyable this album is throughout. It will be addressed a little later. ‘How Long,’ which comes later in the album’s run, is yet another key addition to the record and will also be addressed later. Each of the songs pointed out here are key in their own way to showing what makes 50 Foot Woman another impressive album from Hannah Williams & The Affirmations. When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the end result is a record that stands tall (yes, that awful pun was intended) among this year’s neo-soul and albums in general.
Hannah Williams & The Affirmations’ new album 50 Foot Woman is a work that is a giant success for the group. Yes, that terrible pun was intended, too. It is a record that shows once again, independent acts are just as enjoyable as their more well-known counterparts if not more so. The album’s opener and title track is just one of the songs featured in the record that serves to support that statement. The song’s arrangement features the familiar neo-soul/funk sound for which Williams and company have come to be known, complete with bass, soulful vocals from Williams and equally funky time keeping. The inclusion of the guitars and horns as additional “seasoning” adds even more enjoyment to the arrangement. The whole of the elements makes the song’s arrangement by itself more than enough evidence of what makes the song (and the album in whole) such a joy to take in. It is just one part of what makes the song stand out as an example of the album’s strength, too. The song’s lyrical content adds its own share of engagement and entertainment.
The song’s lyrical content is notable in that she sings here in very proud fashion, a seeming message of self-confidence. That is inferred as she sings in the song’s lead verse, “Well I’m really rushin’ now on top of the world/You wanna try and bring me down/Try again, girl/I’m standing on the mountain/About to fall/I’m running on the rooftops/Fifty foot tall/Like a landslide suicide…watch me go/I’m a ten story building/I’m gonna explode/I’m a pumped up shotgun/With a full load/And when I get that feeling/You all oughtta know/That I’m a ten story building/I’m gonna explode.” Williams continues in the song’s second verse, “Well I’m really rushin’ now/Feel my body pumpin’/Getting hotter and hotter/Suddenly my heart is jumpin’/Taking giant steps/I’m a giantess like Nancy Arthur/Getting taller/Maybe dim the lights/Make it darker/I’ve been breaking through the ceiling night after night/Watch me go/I’m a ten story building/I’m gonna explode/I’m a pumped up shotgun/And when I get that feeling/You oughtta know/That I’m a ten story building/I’m gonna explode.” This comes across as a message of someone who is filled with so much emotion; positive emotion at that, and “ready to explode” with that positive emotion. That sense and seeming message is illustrated even more when these lyrics are set alongside the seeming celebratory sound in the song’s arrangement. The pairing of the two elements makes the song a positive start to 50 Foot Woman and an equally strong example of what makes this album stand so tall itself. It is just one of the album’s most notable entries, too. ‘The Only Way Out Is Through’ exhibits in its own way, the album’s strength, too.
‘The Only Way Out Is Through,’ which comes early in the album’s run, presents its own neo-funk sound without just rehashing the sound of the record’s first-two songs. In place of the horns and bass that formed the foundation of the album’s opener is a steady time keeping, keyboards and lines at the base of this arrangement. The horns are not forgotten, of course. They add just enough body to the song to make the arrangement even more depth to the arrangement. Williams’ vocal delivery here changes up again, this time lending itself to comparisons to the vocal stylings of the late, great Janis Joplin. That should be no surprise, considering that even Joplin herself based a lot of her own sound on the funk and soul sounds of her own day. Just as interesting is that unlike the album’s opener, this work presents more of a serious urgency versus the celebratory feeling and sound of ’50 Foot Woman.’ The whole of the noted elements makes the song in whole yet another unique addition to the album that shows in its own unique way, why 50 Foot Woman is such a pleasant surprise. The arrangement is just one part of what makes the song stand out. Its lyrical content does just as much as the album’s title track/opener to show what makes this song noteworthy.
Williams sings in the song’s lead verse, “Making friends with silence/Sitting still with pain/I’ve done too much running/So do it again, do it again/Sorrows do not drown, my friends/They always learn to swim/And one way or another/They’re gonna find their way back here/The only way out is through, she said/The only way out is through/All you need now is you, she said/All you need now is you.” She continues in the song’s second verse, “Burn the bridges/I don’t need/Screw my courage down/The time has come to take the leap/This is my town now…One way or another/They always find their way back here.” This, as always, is just this critic’s interpretation and should not be taken as the only interpretation, but in examining the lyrics, it seems like Williams is addressing dealing with some very strong thoughts and emotions. She comes across here as saying the only real way to deal with those emotions is to face them head on: “The only way out is through.” She hints at those feelings and emotions never being fully gone, so as much as we might try to bury them “sorrows do not drown, my friends/They always learn to swim,” we have to just face them and deal with them. This seeming message is a powerful statement that if indeed it is what she is saying, is something that so many people of so many ages will benefit from hearing. The song’s arrangement, which again, bears a rather urgent and serious tone and feel, seems to work with that seeming message, too, making even stronger the argument that Williams is addressing dealing with those noted thoughts and emotions. The whole of the musical and lyrical content here makes the song its own standout entry in Williams and company’s new album. It is a song that is certain to serve as its own therapy for listeners. Even with this in mind, it still is not the last of the album’s most notable works. ‘How Long,’ which comes much later in the album’s run is yet another of the songs that serves to show why 50 Foot Woman is such a positive new offering from Williams and her fellow musicians.
‘How Long’ presents an arrangement that is more lighthearted than that of ‘The Only Way Out Is Through’ through the use of light keyboards, drumming and overall celebratory nature. What is interesting about this is that Williams seems to be looking back on something negative from the past and is remembering how bad things were as she and her backup singers make their way through the song. In listening closely to the song, it would seem that she and her fellow performers and musicians are making a sociopolitical commentary here, which would make the arrangement here make more sense in its feeling and sound.
Williams sings in the song’s lead verse, “Could it be forever/That we will never see/Grasping at the future/For all that cannot be/Are my ancestors calling me/Or am I losing my mind/Beneath the roar of machinery/I hear their voices cry/Can you hear me crying/So long/We’ve cried/For so long/So long/We’ve cried for so long.” She continues in the song’s second verse, “I’ll give you the light/If you show me the dark/What we use to connect/Is what’s pulling us apart/The world is still hungry/Just a faceless child/With these heavy city storms…can you hear me crying/So long/We’ve cried for so long/So long/We’ve cried for so long/How far till we see that we’re wrong?” She adds late in the song, “Don’t keep me in a daydream/So long/We’ve cried for so long/So long/We’ve cried for so long/How far must we go ‘til we see that we were wrong?/Could it be forever?” This is a very telling statement here. Williams does not come right out and say she is addressing some very pertinent social concerns, but she greatly insinuates it with the noted statements, noting, “What we use to connect/Is what’s pulling us apart.” That single line puts everything else into perspective, or at least it seems to do so. If in fact Williams and company are making a sociopolitical statement here, they have done so in impressive fashion. The infectious groove created in the song’s arrangement adds to the song’s impact with the end result of everything proving once more what makes ‘How Long’ another important addition to 50 Foot Woman. When this work is considered alongside the other two songs examined here and the rest of the album’s offerings, the whole of the album becomes a work that stands just as tall and proud as works from any of Williams’ more well-known counterparts.
Hannah Williams & The Affirmations’ second full-length studio recording (and Williams’ third overall studio recording) is a work that is just as enjoyable as the group’s 2016 album Late Nights & Heartbreak if not even more enjoyable. That is because once again, she and her fellow musicians and performers have crafted a series of musical arrangements that are infectious and unique from one to the next. The lyrical content within each song is just as notable from one to another from start to end. That is exhibited in all three of the songs featured here. When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole of the album proves to be a work that stands just as tall and proud as anything that Williams’ more well-known counterpart have released so far this year and that is easily deserves a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new albums overall. More information on 50 Foot Woman is available online now along with all of Hannah Williams & The Affirmations’ latest news and more at:
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