Audra McLaughlin - Audra - The Voice
Ahead of Audra McLaughlin's upcoming UK debut at Buckle & Boots 2022 comes a little #TEAMw21 exclusive in the shape of a tour souvenir that will only be available as a cd in strictly limited numbers. The title obviously plays on Audra's time spent on Team Blake on the US version of the show. Whereas UK winners of the show seem to head into oblivion that does not seem to be the fate of contestants on the US version and 11 tracks of Audra prove the point, As well as singing Audra also notches up writing credits on at least six of the songs including the upcoming new single "I Don't Wanna Feel The Sun", although it won't be out until later in the summer and so this cd will afford the buyer something of a world exclusive. Assembling together some of Audra's earlier work and blending it with current and yet to be released material gives a real sense of the journey she has embarked on and shows how far she has come.
The album is therefore a showcase of Audra's talents, equally at home with big rocking tunes or a soulful ballad, the next single fits somewhere in between, There is a pounding drumbeat powering the track and the guitars are primed for ballad mode, however it is Audra that dominates this track - never has feeling down sounded quite so good. We find Audra on the end of being heartbroken and the chorus spells out the effects that it has had on her
"I don't wanna feel the sun - I just wanna feel the rain
Drink whiskey all night long, drown away my pain
Hide under a cloud - until my love is gone
Lock me in this house - I don't wanna feel the sun"
The verses find Audra dealing with the mundanity of life, having to go to work while all the time not in the right frame of mind, consequently "looking like a train wreck" waiting for the time she can get back home and "Sit in the dark". The later choruses see the vocal shackles loosen and Audra gets rockier in her delivery, while finishing on some soulful vocal gymnastics.
The soulful vibe is more present on the previous track "We Ain't Missin' Nothin'" which is punctuated by an organ that just screams soul, while the acoustic guitar adds a laid back lazy feeling to this somewhat sultry, saucy number with Audra decrying
"Ain't nothing else I'd rather do - than spend all night undressing you - by candlelight"
It's a great advert for not going out - "you and me and a bottle of wine - there ain't no rush, we can take our time"
The lyrics are laced with phrases to match the temperature generated by the backing and Audra plays it perfectly, suitably suggestive, so much so that fiddle player in the background seems to get progressively steamed up as the track develops.
In a similar mood, with an equally temperature raising lyric is "Love Me Like A Stranger" with Audra playing the part of someone looking to rekindle a love, back to the heady days of their first meetings.
"You've been in a hurry - sometimes I hurry too
We will go all night back when we were new"
It's classic country with both a guitar and a sweet organ solo giving it that southern soulful sound. Audra perfectly pitches her revival plan so well that pheromones are all but flying out of the speakers.
"I know that you love me - you know I love you too
but we need to love each other - like we we used to do"
The clash between classic country and southern soul continues into "Beautiful Pain", filled with pedal steel yet oozing the rhythms of classic soul. complete with backing singers.
"What was I supposed to do, seeing you out with someone new
Hit me in the chest, stole my breath used to be me with you"
It causes Audra to reflect on how a love so right could go so wrong
"What we had was amazing - it was more than love we were making
But it all went wrong, the fire was gone, and we couldn't save it"
Audra's vocal on the chorus as she elongates "Beautiful pain" is marvellous and the chorus that starts with an all out power vocal, ends at barely a whisper.
Just to prove that Audra is not averse to a happy song "No Never" comes along with its relationship affirming lyric
"I know you look at me - sometimes have your doubts
Look closely and you'll see there's no need to wondering about"
If the verse is played out quite sedately over a fiddle and some mild mannered guitars then the same cannot be said for later where Audra bursts into life with her affirmations that all is well
"Will I ever leave you? Will I ever not need you?
Will I ever stop loving you - No Never"
The song is a standard country ballad however it is Audra's ability to effortlessly move up the gears as the choruses kick in that gives the song greater texture. If the verses are her giving calm reassurance then the choruses all but scream that there really is no need to worry, in a way that should get the message through - a potential phones in the air moment for the Buckle & Boots crowd.
As we mentioned at the start "Audra - The Voice" is a showcase and songs like "Put On Pink" are bang up to date despite coming out in 2017, the opening, all drum machine and vocal effects while the chorus is loud and punchy making it an anthem dedicated to each and every woman fighting an uphill battle, but more specifically, the war against breast cancer.
Inspired by two of her aunts that survived breast cancer, Audra's "Put On Pink" celebrates the power of the colour
"You can beat this - just believe it - Can I get an amen?"
A similar modern sounding track from the same period is "Boomerang", one of Audra's earlier singles, which sees her supported in the earlier verses by an array of electronica as well as some more traditional backing on the chorus. It's a slightly odd juxtaposition that just about works however it needs Audra to deliver the first verse lines in a slightly odd way - the earlier ones slow, whereas the later ones seem to squeeze too many words into the available time. If nothing else it grabs the listeners attention for being just that little bit different.
The chorus is much more standard country fare - the boomerang being the metaphor for a somewhat toxic relationship "Boomerang - I can't throw you away.
It finds Audra in something of a dilemma "I try to fight it but i kinda like it".
Undoubtedly lifted to another level by Audra's vocal contributions, this shows the magic dust that she can sprinkle on an otherwise routine song.
Another curious mix between dance and country is "Can't Buy Fun Like This" with Audra firing off lines in a rapid fire style over a dance like drum beat while in the background a fiddle plays. It's a simple good time song and definitely fires off a good time feeling
"Rollin down the river on a home made yacht!"
"Leaving The Light On" sees a bit of a mismatch between a tinny pulsing synth and drum machine sound and Audra's all powerful vocals, admittedly a guitar does come in later but the whole thing pales against other tracks on the album.
The album opens to "Headed For The Fall" and sees Audra rocking out in a tricky situation
"Nothing ever feeled so wrong that feels so damned right"
A love so strong can't let go tonight"
The chorus allows for a play on the word "fall" and although there are later mentions of it getting colder and being November that is not necessarily the fall being headed for
"Seasons come, seasons go
You're the thunder, I'm the storm
Two young lovers in the night
seeing nothing eye to eye"
This is undoubtedly a volatile couple
"You're the whiskey, I'm the wine
We don't mix at all!
I'm a wreck for loving you
I'm heading for the fall"
With almost a tribal chant running through the track and Audra's vocals at their rockiest - it is an attention grabbing opening to the cd.
In contrast the album closes to "Drinking With Lonely" - a piece of soft rock, containing perhaps the most heatfelt lyrics of the whole cd with perfectly captured vocals.
"If I had a crowd inside this house
turn the music way up load
I'd still be alone - it wouldn't change a thing"
It finds Audra deep in contemplation
"Thought you were my everything"
and the crutch at times like this is alcohol though as the final line proves it's just an illusion.
"Drinking with lonely - just me and red wine
Miss having somebody with love in his eyes
Drown myself in a bottle
Dying ever so slowly
Deep down inside I can't escape the darkness"
Although fairly rocky, the production mutes the band to play mainly a secondary role leaving Audra to get the emotions of hurt and emptiness across. If by now you thought you had heard all of Audra's vocal tricks just wait for the closing section where she all but goes off the scale into another dimension to join Minnie Ripperton!
All in all "Audra - The Voice" acts as both a fine memento for her first UK tour and provides a great catch up for UK fans who may not have seen her appearances on the US Voice, while also acting as a nice signpost for the musical direction she is heading into for the future.