The first time I gave a spin to this self-titled album by Hannah Wicklund & The Stepping Stones, I said to myself “Uh-huh” as a positive response to the first few songs, made a mental note about a few things, then kind of half-listened to the rest of the album as I pottered about at something or other, thinking that it tailed off a bit as it progressed.
Listening to it again now, those first impressions were wrong. This third album from Hannah and her pals is an impressive body of work from start to finish. The songs are good, she’s got a strong voice, plays some sharp guitar, and has a kicking band behind her in the form of drummer Juilian Dorio and bassist Reno Bo.
|Hannah Wicklund - she can play, sing, she can do most anything|
Pic courtesy of Greg Logan Photography
Imagine, if you will, Pat Benatar re-tooled for the 21stCentury. All the AOR-sheen has beensandpapered off, she’s been force-fed a diet of Led Zeppelin and early Rush, and handed a guitar and told to equip herself as a lead guitarist even if it makes her fingers bleed. That might give you an idea of what Nashville-based Hannah Wicklund & The Stepping Stones sound like. Maybe. Or perhaps you should just imagine being chucked in a wind tunnel.
The ‘Peak Patty’ moment is probably ‘Mama Said’, with its stuttering, semi-reggaefied riff leading to a hooky, upbeat chorus which they ram home big time towards the end, while Wicklund contributes a nifty little squealing solo to close. But the polished middle 8 of ‘Ghost’ comes pretty close, in the midst of a strolling, chiming, bluesy affair on which Wicklund’s expressive vocal reaches towards a rootsier domain, and she demonstrates a disciplined approach to soloing that serves the song rather than the ego.
Wicklund’s inspirations may stem from the early Seventies and beyond, but she still manages to sound modern, with the aid of producer Sadler Vaden (guitarist with Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit). For ‘On The Road’ she highlights her flexibility by deploying a yelping, hiccupping vocal that provides some effective variation, over ringing guitar, appealingly bendy bass from Bo, and crunching, driving drums from Dorio, before downshifting into a subtle solo. Then there’s a discordant tinge to ‘Crushing’, with a quavering vocal, and a heavy descending riff that’s counterpointed by a spiky solo, before Wicklund really gets her wail on vocally.
Now and then things may get a bit overcooked, as Wicklund’s voice has to compete with that huge rhythm section at times, as on both ‘Strawberry Moon’ and ‘Meet You Again’, but I’ll forgive her. The former is another well constructed song, opening with just guitar and an aching vocal that hints at Maria McKee rootsiness, and features another patient, well-measured solo. The latter hints at Americana possibilities with its moody guitar and voice intro, which is then met with sharp injections of Zepp-ish power, before a shift in tempo and rhythm into urgent strumming and then a scrabbling solo.
And if the album opens with stomping blues rock in the form of 'Bomb Through The Breeze', she’s got the courage to close in more restrained fashion with ‘Shadow Boxes And Porcelain Faces’, which features delicately picked acoustic-sounding guitar, and sweet vocals that again play around with Americana in haunting fashion, over minimalist percussion – and I do mean minimalist.
With her Pre-Raphaelite auburn locks the 22-year old Wicklund looks the part too. If she can cut it live with the punch suggested by this album, I predict a bright future.
Hannah Wicklund & The Stepping Stones is released in the UK on 13 September.Hannah Wicklund & The Stepping Stones are touring Britain and Europe from August to October 2019.