Due for Release 7th July 2014
EP Review: By Ryan Mitchell-Smith
I was very kindly sent a sneak peek of Risa Hall’s upcoming EP “New York Nights” and I simply could not resist having a listen and passing an opinion or two. I had previously not known much about Risa and so this was an introducing session. I plonk my latte in its usual spot and with no expectancy whatsoever… hit play.
The EP kicks off with a hopeful and upbeat “Kids on Victoria Avenue” which is a cheery number that really bounces along chirpily. The guitars sound rich and there are beautiful vocals reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt crossed with The Carpenters soaring over a warming backing with delicate percussion for good company. Risa Hall delivers a well-crafted opening track and the vocals in particular really lift the feel of the song and the lyrics. Speaking of which, lyrically this song is a lovely concept, looking at a group of kids playing music on the streets who inspire passers-by with their enthusiasm and naivety of youth. The song blooms with a catchy chorus which leaves the listener feeling all nice and smiley. A lovely little track and a brilliant little opener.
“Air of Availability” is more ethereal and is a stunning song that really captures a mystical sense of naivety and grace. This track has flavours of the sixties as an underlying influence as you can almost hear the old grass roots festival atmosphere seeping through the songs edges.
The song cradles you into a loving embrace as the flute and guitar dance together, immediately revealing the excellent musicianship holding everything together beautifully as the verse progresses. Then there is a lift to a more upbeat chorus than you might expect and this works really well. This is good song-writing with great structure and this is where the song excels. The lyrics are very simple and suit the song, as they don’t sound contrived as many do in this setting when they try too hard. This is well-pitched and everything balances everything else really well.
Vocally this is lovely. We have Risa singing a gorgeous melody which bends and tails off really nicely, whizzing you back to those 60s festival fields. Hall manages to convey the ethos of the song by lifting her vocals perfectly when the chorus comes in and then reining them in for the delicate nature of the verses. This is really, really well done and is what makes the song work as a whole.
“New York Nights” arrives as the title track 3, and rather delightfully has a quirky and fun feel to it whilst oozing great musicianship and a sense of not taking itself too seriously. This is a very hard thing to achieve. As the title track of the EP it steps up to the plate with its catchy nature. This song is structurally more adventurous than the others which allows time for the musicians to really shine. Risa has done a great job in performing this with just the right sense of style and she makes the ending section shine with a wonderfully layered vocal outro. The lyrics are again simple and fun and help lift the mood at the end of the EP really well. This is a groovy song that leaves you humming long after the end of the track.
“Ethereal Waters” takes us to the end of the mysterious journey of this EP, as a gorgeous guitar, bass and flute introduce a beautiful Folksy atmosphere. Vocally I find myself mesmerised with a beautiful melody that sets this song up as my favourite on the EP. There is some tailing-off of some notes vocally which personally I find a little over-bearing when used all the time, however the use of it as a vocal technique doesn’t spoil the song in any way for me, and I am utterly aware that this is a personal taste thing. I know I have a personal “irk” when words are joined together or tailed-off too often, however, Risa uses these “irks” of mine and slaps me in the face with them. They really work for her and I find myself enjoying sections of music that I previously might not have done through my own pre-judgements because she sings with these mannerisms so well as a fundamental part of her vocal character. I simply cannot help but enjoy this record and I think it is because the lovely personality of Risa and her amazing musicians comes through so strongly.
New York Nights is a great EP that has a good blend of folky-ness, pop-iness and jazzy-ness to keep you tapping your feet and humming along all the way through. It has a versatility about it which is refreshing, as it is hard normally to maintain that sense of songs being connected throughout, but this EP feels complete and at home from beginning to end.
Excellent Stuff! A brilliant first impression!
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