First Impressions: Girl From the North by Lauren Housley

The sublime mixes with the solid on this 10-song set from the velvety-voiced Housley, whose timbre toppled me earlier this week when it first seeped through the headphones atop “What’s Troubling You Child?” That tune could well be a long-buried treasure unearthed from Chips Moman’s backyard, a Memphis soul stew that even King Curtis would enjoy. That’s to say that, although recorded in a basement studio in her hometown of Rothertham, South Yorkshire, the album often conjures the sound sculpted by Moman circa the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when he ran American Sound Studio.

The album opens with “Bless His Soul,” which she wrote for a friend who passed away. She told Entertainment Focus that she woke from a dream about him: “I had this song in my head and I just jumped out of bed about half past three and got my guitar when the song was still there.” It’s soulful, country and rock fused into one, with a heartfelt guitar solo at the end. “Guaranteed Sunshine,” which follows, is a blast of pure upbeat affection (‘you’re my guaranteed sunshine/every morning, noon and night”). “What’s Troubling You Child?” is next, and essentially blends the Staple Singers, Dusty Springfield and Valerie Carter, among others, into a spellbinding three minutes and 55 seconds.

The sweet “Sing to Me” finds her singing in a higher register: “Sing to me/Sing a song the sweetness of a melody/Sing from deep within your memory/Sing until I fall asleep.” “Breakdown” is next; though the title echoes Tom Petty’s first single, the opening reminds me more of the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreaming” while the rest channels the Fifth Dimension. (Though that may be my ears playing tricks on me.) They’re part of what I’d call a solid string of songs that, at times, conjure others – “This Ain’t the Life” echoes Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” for instance, while “Why Are We Making It So Hard?” sounds a lot like Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough.”

“Stay Awake to Dream” is another wondrous tune, sounding much like a spacetime refugee from the 1960s. It’s atmospheric, dreamy and soulful, somewhat akin to Carole King’s “Goin’ Back.” Instead of giving one’s self wholly to gauzy nostalgia, however, the longing is balanced by a clear-eyed view of the past. From what she told Lyric Magazine, “I got this influx of different memories of growing up in Rotherham, that were piecing themselves together; the naivety that you sometimes have growing up but also really believing that there is so much positivity in the world and then things happening that tread on that a bit but still trying to focus on the light and the life that you imagined for yourself.” 

The album’s final track, “We’re Not Backing Down,” conjures Tom Petty with both its title and sound, while simultaneously doing the same for ‘80s-era New Wave, with the backing vocals reminding me (in a good way) of various rag-tag bands.

All in all, as I said on Instagram the other day, it’s a phenomenal, soulful album. At its best, it sounds like it was recorded at American Sound Studio. At its worst, it’s still damn good. It ably blends a myriad of sounds and styles into a coherent whole, including country, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. It may not change your life, but it will hold your attention from the first note to the last. It’s well worth a few dozen spins.

The track list:

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