I wasn’t born / shackled and bound / to live life / and not feel alive – ‘Searching (For More)’
There’s a sense of defiance to Hannah Acfield’s new record, her debut solo long-player, No Light Without Shade. There’s a sense of power, of fluidity, of almost endless space.
It’s almost as if she has been building to this point her entire musical life, and to an extent, this is true. Those aware of her music might be surprised that No Light Without Shade is a debut, given her already solid musical past. Acfield, graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium in 2007, released two EPs early on – My Tomorrow in 2008 and Where You Once Lay in 2010 – before teaming up with younger brother, Dan, to form folk duo The Acfields.
The pair had some success, releasing two full-length albums and an EP over the course of six years, while Acfield herself garnered a clutch of songwriting awards, including winning the 2012 Music Managers Forum of Australia Songwriting Contest; MusicOz finalist in 2010 and 2012; a Highly Commended at the QMusic Awards in 2016; and semi-final berths in the acclaimed International Songwriting Competition in 2019 and 2020. It had become time then, for Acfield to step out on her own.
Acfield was burning to experiment with form and style, to step away from the deeply ingrained traditions that colour folk music, and try something new, something that would challenge and inspire her. Something that musically and vocally, would set her free.
It’s an album that, firstly, does indeed showcase her voice, a voice that resonates across the record, boldly powerful and confident, rich with emotion, able to punch when needed, pull back when a softer touch is required.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, No Light Without Shade is the sonic experiment Acfield needed, hence this feeling of freedom that pulses through it. It arcs across a range of styles, which one could loosely file under the ‘roots’ umbrella, utilising that old musical adage of light and shade to great effect, melding it all together into a cohesive album, as opposed to a mere clasp of songs – a sensitive musical journey, emotive and otherworldly, charming and truthful.
This is, for Hannah Acfield, a new phase of her musical life, the importance of which cannot be underestimated – No Light Without Shade is another beginning, unrestrained and free.