‘It’s an absolute treat for the ears and a master class in songwriting.’
First discovering Lauren Highley a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Southampton based singer-songwriter. However, after only previewing a couple of the tracks from her debut EP: ‘Live Again’, I simply had to purchase it. Why? Well as you will see, it is clearly evident that for Lauren, the relationship between accompaniment and melody goes way beyond the obvious and in working with co-producer Luke Targett, she has managed to achieve something very special.
Opening the EP, we have ‘I Promise,’ which, with guitar riffs reminiscent of old school 80’s funk music and background textures that put you in a live setting, you can’t fail to be put in a feel-good mood. This setting also works brilliantly as the perfect contrast to Lauren’s smooth, faultless vocal. As the track continues, so do the funk influences and with Hammond organ inspired melodies, palm muted guitar chord sequences and an instrumental link just before the chorus that brings a smile every time, as an opener, it sets the bar very high.
Moving to Track 2, ‘Live Again’, the first few bars take you a world away from the funk sounds of Track 1 and on hearing the high-pitched piano melody – which blends beautifully with the opening lyrics – you know you’re about to hear something special. The slightly melancholy nature of the track, which is a million miles from the style of ‘I Promise’ is totally unexpected, however, with a relaxed accompaniment and a soaring vocal that wouldn’t be out of place in the best jazz clubs, you can’t fail to realise the versatility of Lauren. It’s an honest track, which is has some quite sexy moments, and while it may hint at becoming more forceful when the more regular beat is introduced around the halfway point, there is no getting away from its jazz ballad influences.
Given the title of track 3 ‘Phoenix Rises’, you could be forgiven for expecting a more full on track, however instead of this, we have a return to the funk influences of track one but ironically, in a more relaxed form. In doing this, your listen becomes more focused on the lyrics and the great story telling within them. It is also in this track where for me the real highlight moment of the whole EP is. I can’t really even begin to describe just how good it is but as you get to the bridge, the texture builds to its fullest point and then, just as you think you know where it’s going, it completely reduces leaving only an acoustic guitar and the lyric’s ‘No more hiding’ sung by Lauren to come through. It’s an absolute treat for the ears and a master class in effective songwriting.
Reaching the penultimate track, ‘Light of My Life,’ we revisit the jazz style of track 2 but this time with a greater sense of pace. Like previous tracks, the vocal and the accompaniment work as one with heartfelt lyrics cleverly set to piano, acoustic guitar and a cajon with the addition of string counter melodies later on. Although there are only these few elements, there are some really magical touches. Take the way the delicate piano part on the word ‘angel’ shines through in the latter part of the track as a prime example. It’s moments like these that perfectly reinforce Lauren’s sense of musicality.
To close the EP we have ‘Like A Butterfly’ which after half expecting a return to similar influences, it actually quite the opposite. This doesn’t mean that everything is new though. The opening background texture and the piano introduction are certainly not, but they way they are used is. Here, they bring a combined sense of warmth and anticipation not felt in any of the other tracks. It’s beautiful. Add to this Lauren’s exposed vocal and the opening lyrics of the chorus and it’s hard not to picture a butterfly breaking from its chrysalis ready for its first flight. The track itself, like the butterfly, gains momentum throughout and with a developing drum pattern and a perfectly mixed Pat Matheny-esque guitar part – which cuts through at just the right moments – it is goose bump inducing closing track. I just hope the debut album that Lauren is working on now, is just as good as this.
Lauren’s EP: ‘Live Again’ is available to purchase via iTunes and you can keep up to date with the progress of her forthcoming album by following @LaurenJHighley and her producer @LukeTargett on Twitter.