When I meet up with Lynne Hanson as she’s preparing for her last gig of her tour in Debenham, Suffolk at the Dove Cottage, she looks tired, ready for home. It’s been a difficult tour. A dark leather jacket and jeans frame the facial weariness set against her blonde hair.

The village of Debenham has a mix of thatched cottages, elmsett pink houses and a landscape set for Constable’s brush. Backdrop to the venue is just what it says on the tin, a cottage. Capacity fifty seats, which are plastic and stackable. No alcohol (you can bring your own), last song at 10 p.m., neighbours curfew, simple.

“I’m pleased to be playing here. I know the place will be full and folks come here purely for the music, some of the other venues...well.” Her sentence trails off and the disappointment is palpable.

This UK tour has been set up to coincide with her new album, 'River of Sand'. This is her fourth studio album, released late September 2014 to critical acclaim in Europe and Canada. Currently sitting at no. 4 in the Freeform American Roots Chart,and no. 16 in the EuroAmericana Chart, it’s on its way to being a successful album.

“I would be lying to say I wasn’t hurt and more than a little surprised at some of the gigs low attendances,” she says, moving her left leg with a flinch of pain. She has hobbled around Glasgow, Nottingham, Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire on crutches with a full length support brace on her left leg. A sports injury resulting in ligaments going south, tendons going north. All those escaping knee parts will be re-united on the surgeon's table when she returns to her home in Ottawa, Canada.

Although she learned to play guitar throughout her teen years, the solo career began In 2005 when a long standing musical and personal relationship ended. The first solo album was released in 2006 titled 'Things I Miss'. More albums quickly followed, 'Eleven Months' in 2008 and 'Once the Sun Goes Down' in 2010. Each album gained positive reviews, resulting in a Canadian Folk Music Award nomination 2009. She also won the Colleen Peterson Songwriter Awards for her song 'Rest of My Days' in 2010.

I suggest 'River of Sand' is far different from her previous work, more mature, more controlled, self analytical.

“Oh, yes, this is by far my most honest album. My previous albums have expressed events, feelings in a round about way, almost in code. This is me opening up, completely.”

So, why the fundamental change? I ask.

“It’s well documented my struggle with depression, solace in drinking, which I took to extremes by the way. Sometimes events trigger that dark cloud, mostly mine have been broken relationships,” she says with complete openness “I’m the youngest from a family of eight. All through my childhood I seem to have watched people leave. When it came to my turn for relationships, there’s no doubt I stayed in and around them too long.” A slight wry smile comes to her face. A private memory flashing by. ”Lynn Miles who produced the album has been fantastic. She has encouraged the honesty in each and every song. If it wasn’t right, she told me. I needed that input."

What was the trigger for change? Four years between albums is a long time in the music industry. I opine.

“One day I woke up and said enough is enough, get cleaned up, stop the drinking, get rid of all the negativity step by step, or life is going to pass me by. That’s what I did. Here I am today, three years sober, I don’t drink at all. I accept medication and support of loved ones being a key component in keeping those demons at bay,” she adds with some clarity.

Going back to early September 2014, I’d never heard of Lynne Hanson. I stumbled across her playing at the Life of Riley Club in Marlow, Buckinghamshire in front of an appreciative, but paltry numbered audience. An acoustic set, a wonderfully balanced alto voice and a pair of crutches. Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time. This was one of them. The performance really took me by surprise, as does the album. It’s as if I had walked in on a musical cleansing of someone's soul. An open wound still bleeding with no effort being made to stop the flow.

Lyrically, the intensity on matters of the heart are comparable with Janis Ian, Dory Previn, Norah Jones, Laura Marling.

The album 'River of Sand' has eleven songs, some casting the listener into a black hole of despair. Others a fanfare of hope. It’s a brutal, but thoroughly rewarding journey.

'Colour My Summer’s Blue' caught in a summer’s rain bringing back memories of a lost love…”Gonna sit here drinkin’ hoping I can sink into a merciful haze” Er, anyone relate to that?

'That Old House' tells of a marriage which is over, the fighting, the squabbles, the love, all gone. Her flat tone throughout expresses perfectly someone who is completely exhausted, worn out, defeated . “Fifteen years and all I got was old.” Yet although the house has to be sold, she doesn’t really want to leave…”As I closed that big oak door and cried, I swear I heard that old house sigh”. I guess to write lines such as these you have had to go through the trauma. It’s another challenge to get those emotions onto paper, rather than remaining stowed away in a swirling head of negative emotions.

I’m sure anyone in the middle of their own personal turmoil will take solace in 'This Too Shall Pass'. A gentle ballad which confronts possible suicide and the depths of depression. “Even God don’t want to know my name” is probably as low as a person's esteem can go. From somewhere there is, however, the belief that “This too shall pass." She tells me this is the most challenging song she has written. Listen to the song, you won’t disagree.

Earlier in the interview I was going to ask if all these songs were personal. Does each one relate to her life? No need to ask she makes it clear. This is her life, trials and tribulations in verse...

It’s gig time. Dove Cottage has each of its fifty chairs filled. For the final time she hobbles on stage. Within the opening verse of the album's title track 'River of Sand', it is apparent the venue has a top quality sound system. Location acoustics allow every word, every chord change to be heard with sublime clarity. Before each song there is a tale, a story a sharing. “This one is a murder song. I love murder songs,” she says playfully. The audience laugh at the death coming their way. On this occasion the audience and performer connection is instantaneous. The tiredness has gone and she is clearly having a good time. “Hell, I was going home, but I think I’ll stay,” she says as a way of thank you to an appreciative crowd.

Lynne Hanson has control of the audience and her music. The story telling sets up each scene before a note is played, so they know whether to get ready for hand clapping, or possible tears.

The witching hour of 10 p.m. has arrived all too quickly and so ends the gig...or so we thought.

Our compare Dave, whispers to the audience, “It’s late, and we shouldn’t, but one more from Lynne?” he asks.

The applause at this unexpected extension is enough to turn heads in Ipswich. So to close, really close this time she plays 'Good Intentions'. A foot stomping, hand clapping tribute to a young woman who murders a trucker, intent on rape by offering her a ride. If you were in the Suffolk area looking for a casual lift, I guarantee this audience didn’t stop on their way home!

A final pluck of a D chord, the applause subside and the gig and tour are over.

Future plans? I ask “To get home, take a breath, slip back into the rote of Ottawa and plan for the forthcoming tour of Canada beginning late October 2014, if knee surgery allows.” This time I’m wincing at the thought.

Clearly something went wrong on this UK tour. Small venues, small audiences. I’m sure an autopsy will be conducted behind closed doors. It’s a pity more people didn’t get to see Lynne Hanson live. Special performances, special album. Maybe next time, if indeed there is a next time? I hope so.

Photos by Robbi at www.viceversarobbifotografia.co.uk.

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