Evans’ excellent voice and delivery are more than enough to carry any song…
Welsh singer songwriter Laura Evans released her debut EP in 2020, when it was almost impossible for a new act – or indeed anyone – to be seen and heard. Nevertheless, her debut single Running Back To You went straight in at no. 1 on the UK Blues Charts, giving her enough traction to start the scramble into the limelight. Even so, her work had passed under my radar until this first full-length album State Of Mind came out at the beginning of July. I was all ready to pigeonhole her under one of the usual categories: raunchy powerhouse like Sari Schorr or Deborah Bonham; smoky lounge singer like Emma Wilson perhaps – but her voice took me by surprise. It’s sweet, clear and smooth, more like Kylie Minogue or early Madonna, with country phrasing picked up from some of her early influences such as Dolly Parton and Faith Hill. Does this mean she can’t really sing the blues? No. Hell, no. She’s a great singer, with a fluid technique and enough sass to fill the speakers.
But the thing that really sets it all off is the rocky, bluesy and sympathetically varied production of Josiah J. Manning, best known for producing tattooed rocker Kris Barras and his band. Manning plays literally all of the instruments, and he does a hell of a job. When they started work on the album, Evans says she had ‘literally hundreds’ of songs to work with, which gave her and Manning the luxury of deciding exactly how they wanted to pitch the album, making its main focus bluesy rockers, with several pop and country ballads thrown in. Manning plays the rhythms hard and heavy, but offsets almost every song with some acoustic guitar and rim-shot quiet passages.
The set bullies off with the three-minute lead single I’m Alright with its overdriven ‘Spirit In The Sky’ style rock riff, a great opener, creating the perception that this is going to be a heavy grooving album – check out the Kris Barras-directed video at the foot of this page. But although second song Solo carries on in much the same vein, it has a more considered approach – the heavy riff is there, but way down in the mix, allowing the resonator guitar to breathe. It’s a great bit of blues, a defiant freedom song with a sensitive, melodic section in the middle to add some extra texture. Fire With Fire starts with a Bo Diddley-style rock riff, but veers more towards melodic pop with its catchy hook line, whereas the whiskey-drenched Fool is stripped right back to a single, fuzzy arpeggiated guitar and Evans’ voice. It’s an end-of-evening blues, but her sweet vocals give it an unexpectedly poppy vibe. In fact the whole middle section of the album is more or less pop of various kinds, until the rock comes powering back with the appropriately-named Drag Me Back In, with its heavy but subtly restrained guitar sounds and lots of detail bolstering the background. This one is a real highlight for me, and is followed by the Fleetwood Mac-styled pop of Good At Getting Over You, with its light tom rhythm. Lots of keyboards in the backing give this one a fuller sound than most, although it’s ostensibly a lighter song.
Manning surprises with his further skills in the torch song Mess Of Me, with its atmospherically melodic piano intro, reminiscent of later Kate Bush or early Tori Amos. Apart from some occasional backing vocal embellishments, this is simply a single voice over a piano backing, with a melody that recalls Michael Bolton’s How Am I Supposed To Live Without You. But then they come powering back in with Gone, with its thudding intro and hand-clap percussion; there’s an actual guitar solo on this one too, just in case we thought Manning couldn’t do it. The set finishes with Free, featuring a rim-shot rhythm and Bon Jovi cowboy rock vibe.
It would be a mistake to think of this as a blues album per se; there’s too much else going on. I suppose some may say the album covers too many bases for comfort, without focussing on any one style. To me that’s a strength though; it doesn’t get dull or samey, and Evans’ excellent voice and delivery are more than enough to carry any song. If you missed her April gigs, or her support slot for Robert Jon And The Wreck in May, loook out for her supporting Matt Anderson in October. It will be worth it.
State Of Mind by Laura Evans is now available from Rosie Music