Late Nights & Heartbreak, the sophomore album from Hannah Williams, marks the official arrival of the British vocal powerhouse. With a top-notch band, the Affirmations, behind her—and a renewed commitment to the soul sound re-popularized by artists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, Williams has carved out a deep, strong groove.
Williams’ confidence radiates throughout Late Nights, but nowhere is it more evident than in her vocal approach. Her gritty tone on “Fighting Your Shadow” contrasts smartly with her backup vocalists’ sweetness, while the palpable urgency in her cover of “Dazed and Confused” harkens back to the biting original by the American songwriter and jingle writer Jake Holmes. Throughout Late Nights, Williams’ band matches her bombast ounce for ounce; the guitars fly by weightlessly, making liberal use of the wah pedal, and the bass lines—particularly on tracks like “Fighting Your Shadow” and the glitzy “Ain’t Enough”—hit like a sucker punch.
Yet even with its walloping blasts of sound, some of the album’s strongest moments are its most subdued. On “In Your Arms,” Williams sings with a sugary sweetness that offers a salient counterpoint to her scathing howl, and album closer “Your Luck Can Change” evokes the elegance of Sam Cooke. These moments don’t merely capture Williams’ versatility, but remind us, thrillingly, that we can’t be too sure what she will tackle next.
—Max Savage Levenson