Charms Against Sorrow is the brand new début album from singer Hannah Sanders. A charismatic and distinctive vocalist, Hannah has already begun attracting critical attention. Reviewing her 2014 EP Fate, FATEA magazine stated “There are shades of Sandy Denny in Hannah’s expert vocal delivery at times… I hear as much akin to early Joni Mitchell, in terms of melodic manipulation and vocal compass (diagnostic features like confident leaps in register), moulding of phrasing and basic style of guitar accompaniment”. Ben Savage (of The Willows) produced the album and it is he who also plays the acutely sympathetic dobro and guitar in support.
What is evident throughout these recordings is Hannah’s deep respect for tradition, something ”that is really important to me”. ”I work from primarily traditional sources”, she says, ”and traditional song was what I first sung with my family, The Dunns, when I was still a teenager”. Subsequently, as an adult, she left music for a time to pursue a career as a cultural anthropologist, becoming a leading expert on contemporary witchcraft and popular culture, and living in Boston, Massachusetts, until returning to the UK in 2013. “When I lived in America”, she continues, ”these songs were invaluable as they kept me anchored to my own history and landscape.”
The instrumentation deployed on the album reflects both the American and British influences on her musical style. These instruments were ”selected because they work in sympathy with the songs, but speak more of the range of my (and Ben’s) influences (both folk and otherwise).” The musicians involved include family (Hannah’s sister Ruth) and friends — Jon Thorne (Lamb, John Smith, Martha Tilston), and three members of The Willows (Ben, Evan and Jade).
From the beautiful ballads of Britain to sweet songs of the American mountains, Hannah brings lightness and depth to her renditions of songs traditional or contemporary. ”My intention” she explains ”is that my delivery and the material itself should convey depth and substance and not just through control or tone (which are esteemed in traditional singing). Instead, for me delivery is about risk – taking risks in arrangement, in vocal elasticity, and in tonal blending. The songs are big enough, and old enough to have anything thrown at them!
”My job is to deliver a real range of mood and feeling, to bring the listener into a place where they can feel more. I sense this about all the songs, but for me it is most notable in ’Go Your Way’, ’I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and ’Lord Franklin’’”.
The recording was made “grass roots”. ”We recorded it, variously, in an old mill in Suffolk (in a massive empty octagonal room with a fire), in my friend (and folk singer/harpist) Nick Hennessey’s little rural Lake District cottage in the heart of winter, and in our (mine and Ben’s) kitchens and living rooms. You can hear various ambient noises: the fire crackling in the background, you can hear birds and the wind – the funny noise before ’A Sailors Life’ is me trudging up the stairs in the mill. We wanted a sense of liveness, of intimacy, to the album.”
The result is a work that bears the intimacy of all these recording spaces yet is the culmination of a musical journey across two continents. ”For me singing is a moment of connection” Hannah says ”to history, to the inner emotion of a song, and, ultimately (if I’m lucky), to the listener”.
Artist’s website: hannahsandersfolk.com
A live take of ‘Geordie’: