Album review: HANNAH WICKLUND & THE STEPPIN STONES

HANNAH WICKLUND & THE STEPPIN' STONES

Strawberry Moon Records [Release date  30.05.19]

With her previous two albums (Looking Glass (2013) and Steppin Stones (2015)) recorded when she was 15 and 17 being self-released under the branding of The Steppin Stones and no longer available, 22 year old blues rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Hannah Wicklund regards this ‘named’, self-titled release as perhaps her ‘first’.

And as if to underline the point, two tracks from those earlier releases – ‘Looking Glass’, and the soulful ‘Mama Said’ – are revisited here, Wicklund being the only common denominator – her rhythm section having been something of a revolving door cast, with her current touring band having only come together since the album’s release.

Recorded when she was only 20 – under the production/guidance of Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden, it was released in the States at the beginning of 2018 and is getting a UK ‘push’ in advance of a three way tour later this year with fellow up and coming hopefuls Piston and Gorilla Riot.

So the question is – what does Wicklund’s ‘raw, authentic, and genuine ode to classic rock’ offer that others don’t? Because, as regular visitors to GRTR! will know, the axe wielding blues rock female singer/songwriter genre is one that’s seen an explosion of talent, in 2019 alone.

Well, she does offer something just a little bit different – firstly, if she were ‘just’ a new singer the performance here is impressive, with plenty of ‘ache’ to her vocal lines ranging from the Lzzy Hale end of the scale (‘Bomb Through The Breeze) to P!nk (the wistful, folk like, ‘Shadow Boxes And Porcelain Faces’ -o ne that it’s easy to imagine iphone torches being held aloft to).

Then there’s her guitar work – a nice tone, suitably loose, and a good range of styles without ever being unduly ‘flashy’, and with Vaden’s sensitive production capturing plenty of ‘feel’.

Which leads us to the ‘tunes’. Again they’re wide ranging – from the traditional blues rock power trio format of ‘Crushin’ to the soulful ‘Mama Said’, from the Lenny Kravitz infused ‘Too Close To You’ to the Zep-mashed-with-Skynyrd ‘Meet You Again’, and the sultry pop / arena flavoured ‘Ghost’.  They’re all decent, but it’s the more commercial numbers (‘Ghost’, ‘Mama Said’ and ‘Shadow Boxes And Porcelain Faces’) that have the most sticking power.

As for image, she’s got the hippy/trippy early 1970′s ‘Fanny’ female rocker look nailed. Although, let me tell you, the cover art is not flattering, and not a selling feature.

So, the next blues/rock big thing? Or just the next big thing? Only time will tell. Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones is a calling card, for sure. With a little help on song writing and image, the sky could be the limit. ***1/2

Review by Pete Whalley


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