‘Just Wanna Be Me' EP by Abz Winter
Out this morning, as a fanfare-free surprise for her fans, is a new EP from the irrepressible Abz Winter entitled ‘Just Wanna Be Me'.
In theory the collection has five songs on it: "Bad Thoughts", "Conversations", "Fuck Boy", "Bye Bitch" & "Just Wanna Be Me", though the lyrical content needing to be balanced with a desire to reach out to as many people as possible means that several songs also had to be crafted in more radio friendly versions: unsurprisingly "Fuck Boy" will appear on the airwaves with a different title ("Player") too.
It's an interesting phase of evolution for Abz. Her fame grew out of appreciation for her live work & early records made as a teenager & her effervescent stage presence reflected her age as much as her personality. A few years down the line while the essential bubbly personality still manifests itself (thank goodness), Abz is now clearly an adult and has moved on as we all must. Extremely keen to be true to herself, this is an artist who clearly declines to remain in a box anyone might try to place her in & would not wish to follow in the dubious footsteps of previous adult artists encouraged to apparently remain as eternal teenagers & coo of "puppy love" even after marriage.
I think therefore, ‘Just Wanna Be Me' is something of a defiant riposte to any concerns over labelling: Abz is drawing a line here. Most obviously, the lyrics have that "adult" slant to them and taken as a whole send a message which is clear to read: just as clear as that of the key track which lends the EP its name.
Where there is a change for Abz in doing this is that all her songs read as first person perspectives when this is not actually the case. As I mentioned in my review of her cover of "Traitor" which was recorded & released after her success in the feedback from her "Walk The Line" appearance, due to her own perception that she hasn't had enough life experiences herself yet to write every song based on what she's gone through, she instead writes observationally, drawing on what's she's see & learned from friends: which has made for some very strong songs, but they do not portray the real Abz as they are not about her. This sounds a very commendable approach, especially at this stage in her career (I'd much rather she write honest accounts of the lives of others than make stuff up), but at the moment however much she wants people to accept her as she is, some of her songs, unless properly understood, may confuse people who don't know her. Not that this matters in the long run as I'm sure she'll be able to write more about herself in time & there is absolutely nothing wrong with observational writing. Anyone who's met Abz would understand the person they see is not necessarily the ones in the songs.
As I say, the title track is the key to understanding the EP. Written (as were the others) during lockdown, as she says, she "…examines youthful life, friendship & love with honesty.." while wanting to "…to express her feelings with an innocent vulnerability, whilst remaining in charge of her own destiny..". Part of that is the rite of passage wherein we all need to learn how to move on from youthful ways of dealing with situations and become capable of facing difficult conversations & actions when they become necessary. Part of her wants to remain the pleasant caring individual she has always been (and that's certainly worth clinging onto) while other parts want to call out behaviours of others which distress her. In learning how to reconcile these & grow into a person who can be & do both, the "character" songs she is currently writing can act as really useful rehearsals for life and as she puts it herself: ".."the titles alone define the meaning within the songs and youthful life today"…"
As you might well expect, the songs themselves (as ever produced by Matt Waddell at Leamington's 14 Records and then mixed and mastered by El Sam at Elixir Productions) fizz with Abz's joie de vivre (whatever negativity she may be reporting on, it's certain that Abz isn't going to let it drag her down) and reflect a bass-focussed pop-dance take on music, though not necessarily at a frenetic pace: the variety in tempo & voicings has clearly been thought out well and as it's actually been quite a while since Abz released a collection of songs rather than singles, it's worth reporting that she has grasped the value of diversity within a collection: from slow burning intense affairs of reproach (e.g. "Fuckboy" or "Bye Bitch") to the more up beat "Bad Thoughts" and the switching back & forwards between singing & rapping throughout. These are songs crafted to keep you listening to the detail as well as the overall effect.
If the title track is the key to the overall lyrical message, then the soulful "Conversations" is the musical revelation of the EP: the clear next step forward in her writing & the track which really provides a showcase for the sheer quality of her voice (don't just take that from me: I'm happy to quote Craig David ("…you've got a really incredible voice") and Alesha Dixon ("…I love your vocals, very contemporary, very modern") on the matter). As proven with the impact of her performance of "Traitor" on national television, Abz could make it with just the quality of her singing, but as readers of my reviews will know, I think those who can offer the extra reward of original composition on top of the ability to interpret the work of others are what keeps music moving forwards. I really hope "Conversations" is an indicator of where she is going next.
Interestingly too, there are different layers of meaning within the words (and how often does dance music rise to that?): you can certainly take the songs & dance to them (they work just fine at that level) or you can enjoy Abz's wit as she is sparked into commentary by the foolishness she sees around her. However you can also delve down into her search for her own evolving identity as that's there too beneath the verbal humour & central to that question is a more general one of equality: she gives examples of relationships lacking this and then by taking the songs all together, you get a plea for people generally to treat others as they would be treated themselves: "…I wrote the EP based on different personalities I have come across over the last few years, and how a relationship only works if both sides are equal, but more often than not they are so one-sided - whether it be with a partner, friend or colleague alike……I have learnt so much in a very short space, I no longer invest my time and energy to one-sided relationships, life is too short". Amen to that.
"Traitor" by Abz Winter
As I'm sure most if not all of you are aware, Abz Winter was selected for the new television talent show "Walk The Line" at the end of 2021 and after appearing on that show, drew praise from such figures as Gary Barlow, Craig David and Dawn French: all of whom have been around long enough to know talent when they see and hear it and experienced enough to know that giving false praise helps no one. Although the voting process did not enable her to proceed further through the show's format, which is a shame, I think getting this level of exposure is in itself not just the huge leap forwards in her career that many local people (including this magazine) have just been hoping for but predicting but the feedback from figures of this stature will enable her to go into 2022 confident of still further swift & steep upward career progress: which she deserves as much for her very hard work and positive outlook as well as her innate writing & performing talents.
As it happens, the show's format required her to sing a cover version at this stage: I'm impressed that had she reached the next stage, she could have performed one of her own compositions as I feel her writing deserves just as much exposure as her vocal skills & it's a credit to the show that this was an option.
In the event, she went with the song "Traitor" by Olivia Rodrigo as she felt it provided her with a suitable vehicle to demonstrate her singing, and she has been proved right.
Which brings us neatly to the real focus of this review, as demand from her fanbase has been so high that she was persuaded to go into 14 Records and cut a studio version with Matt & Gemma Waddell, which is now out as a single so you can re-experience her performance as many times as you wish. I'm sure given the importance of this event that it really doesn't matter if it breaks the sequence of so many well written original releases & she'll be back very soon with another one of her own composition.
One issue I did put to Abz which I needed her help clearing up, was my concern about her own state of happiness. As any of you who have had any contact with her will know, she has a very sunny & cheerful disposition and this is a huge factor in why her live shows (which initially built her reputation)are so successful: people warm to her instantly and good will is generated by her personality even before you experience her talent.
However "Traitor", whatever its musical qualities are, is quite a bitter song lyrically and as you'll have seen from our reviews, many of her recent singles have been of a similar ilk: "Under Me", "Money", "B.S.", "Faker" etc: all excellent songs in their own right but taken as a sequence, it had me worried for her.
However you'll be pleased to know that my worries are unfounded: she is as positive as ever. "Traitor" was selected more for its potential as a vocal showcase than its message and as for her own writing, I had not entirely appreciated that given when some of the songs were written, she felt that her own life experiences then were insufficient to inspire many songs and therefore she drew on those of a range of friends etc: I must say listening to the songs you have to feel for her friends a bit, but their misfortunes have made for some interesting material with a certain amount of bite.
Moving forwards though, I hope she will now be able to share more songs which more reflect her own very positive & successful life & philosophy. Taken as a set, you can forgive listeners (myself included perhaps) for taking the recent singles as being a picture of Abz herself & such an impression would be as false as you can imagine. She has an album due for release this year & I'm sure that will be an opportunity to set the record straight & capture the personality so many love.
I don't want to jinx Abz, but I think her "Walk The Line" moment was so significant that with much new original material to help her exploit her raised profile in 2022, she could soar way beyond the bounds of Coventry & Warwickshire. If that does happen, then though their gain may be our relative loss, I'm sure everyone would wish her all the best for the success she deserves & has worked so hard towards these past years.
"Under Me" by Abz Winter
That irrepressible artist Abz Winter is back on 8th October with her latest single "Under Me", her follow-up to "Money" from July.
Once again produced by Matthew Waddell at 14 Records and mixed & mastered by El Sam at Elixir Prods, the song continues in her by now trademark style of articulating what she feels without mincing her words but also without malice. It's just as much about working out her own feelings about someone whose faults she now sees as blaming them as such. She may not have ultimately enjoyed that relationship, but she's learnt from it & this empowers her to move right on with her life.
There is in fact a great deal of compassion, both for herself and the object of her words and as is always the case with Abz, not only does her self admitted defiance never spill over into sinking to another's level (and the song is after all about relative levels) but it is tinged with a great deal of her characteristic (good) humour too. Abz holds the moral high ground in this affair, she knows it and can afford to laugh at someone rather than just deride them.
A lockdown created track (as you might imagine), it manages, as Abz always seems to do, to move her writing on another stage each time. It's hard sometimes to forget that she is still in her teens (and this is a great chance to acknowledge how she has just stepped up another level in her musical academic studies and wish her well) as although the effervescent bubbly adolescent personality which attracted us all to her artistry in the first place is still there in the words and parts of the arrangement, there are now cooler, calmer moments of reflection in the music and she has been gaining the life experiences and perspectives to make observations along the lines of "..how we're always attracted to the bad guys, but as the story plays out we actually realise how selfish and controlling they are, and that their only power is in our own insecurities, once digested, we are free to take back control and walk with our heads held high.."
Sung with her customary confidence and élan, the tune again is an infectious electro-dance beat which thankfully she has always processed with a light touch. You can certainly dance to this, but the words are worth your attention.
Underneath the truth of the story, there is something a bit more general and deeper going on in what she has written and which she wants to share with you. It's about self belief and calibrating your own self worth higher than others might want you to: as Abz herself puts better than anything I might write on her behalf: "I have been really busy these past 2 years working on these songs which are an honest interpretation on my own personal experiences. My music helps me stay in control of my own mental wellbeing, I find by putting my thoughts down on paper allows me to offload in what has been a rollercoaster two years for everyone… my slant it is to put a synth- electro-dance-pop type beat, as I feel this keeps the songs light hearted, allowing people to relate without feeling down & hopefully feel better about themselves….we all go through the same shit, just at different times".
Abz certainly is entitled to feel in a powerful and confident position at the moment. She is producing track after track of high class and thoughtful material and given her continuing experiences of playing, studying and being played in different areas of the country, is definitely breaking out of Coventry and Warwickshire and into a bigger world. The last few singles will I understand also be appearing on her upcoming album which I'm sure will showcase all the aspects of her writing and performing skills.
"Money" by Abz Winter
As her follow up to the popular "B.S.", tomorrow Abz Winter is releasing "Money". As with much of her very best & powerful work, the new song challenges the nonsense Abz sees around her and as I have said before, she is skilled at calling out aberrant behaviours without being nasty about the person: she seems to be aiming to reform people's way of treating each other rather than simply condemning them without hope of redemption.
This time round her gaze is levelled a little wider than in "B.S" or "Faker", both of which you get the impression were "inspired" by the actions of some person or people closer to home. With "Money", her target is much more societal and systemic: the damage created by the corruption to souls and values by the materialistic spiral of greed and lust for power and fame, fuelled by the commodity in the song's title.
As with her other work, Abz works hard both to suit the music to her words and to provide a varying listening experience with each release. In this case, the darker theme is reflected in the sound which broods more than her usual breezy persona and positively smoulders as she reveals the results of her contemplations.
Created, as with her previous few releases, with Matt Waddell at Leamington's 14 Records and mastered by El Sam at Elixir Productions, "Money" may tackle a serious & concerning subject, but it fits the Abz style of wriggling into our heads infectiously in order to makes its points. Quite slow for one of her tunes, it is based around an old school synth beat and frees her voice to be the main focus of the song: which is no bad thing.
Straight from the off she makes it plain that not only does she disdain greed & materialism but they possess no power over her: "I'm not afraid of losing you, you don't do anything". As she also says (though not in the song) "the lyrics are very relatable to the millennial age group I'm in, and we should all boss up! follow our instinct, only keep people around us that we know we can trust and cut the rest". I'm not sure though that the potential effect of the message is confined to that age group though: I am sure it applies much more broadly. Abz feels she is writing for her generation & no doubt that focus is helpful to her creativity, yet like all strong songwriters, her work has applicability beyond even her own intentions.
She is on quite a roll at the moment with three great singles in as many months and given the measurable spread of airplay for her, the inclusion on ever more playlists and the things said about them in reviews, it seems clear enough that news of her talents is travelling in the way we'd have envisaged for her pre-pandemic. Long may that continue to be so.
"B.S." by Abz Winter
Abz Winter has only gone and done it again hasn't she? I love the way that although her game has never needed raising (it's been at the top from the word go: that's why so many people have been praising her for so long), she moves on and develops her craft with each release.
"B.S." takes the strut and confidence of her last single, the widely acclaimed "Faker" and runs with it. Out on the 4th June, with pre-ordering currently an option for you, produced by Matt Waddell at 14 Records and mixed ‘n' mastered by Elixir Productions, this song is yet another huge step towards that eagerly anticipated moment when Abz becomes a name to be conjured with not just amongst her loyal Coventry & Warwickshire fanbase but a much wider one. And why not national recognition at this stage? I'll cut to the chase: this song is the equal to anything I hear on the national playlists and charts and superior to most of it. All she needs is someone to listen to it on national media and start playing it.
That's not to say that the song is in anyway some sort of safe "let's please everyone" lump of bland homogenous chart fodder. Far from it. Abz isn't just liked, she is respected and that's an even higher level of esteem. She doesn't compromise her writing (as you might imagine from the title, the song has to have a more radio friendly version) and the single follows its predecessor in calling someone out in no uncertain terms: though as I've said before, she does so with wit & good humour and presumably would prefer the object of her derision to mend his ways.
It's an interesting balance, between the highly likeable persona Abz projects (which reflects her own personality) and the straight talking hater of fakery and bullshit but she always seems to pull it off without either sounding that she's too nice a person to actually mean what she is singing about or on the other hand too nasty to fit with her general image.
Much the same can be said for the music her words are set to: the song balances a number of performance styles and works them into one coherent whole. Moving seamlessly from rapping into singing (and her voice is another of her strongest suits) against a backing which is surprisinghly spartan (her vocals are definitely afforded the spotlight) this is clearly very carefully thought out. Once again, the temptation to over produce has been avoided and this is yet another aspect to applaud.
And it's far from me who holds such high opinions: "Faker" is appearing on multiple Spotify playlists and getting many airplays on a variety of stations: as Toni Peach of HillzFM said of her this very week: "She has got all my admiration. She is such a young but confident girl …..I was overwhelmed with how confident she was (at an Arches gig) and what a great performance that she gave … so accomplished and she really really has all the makings of a great great pop artist.. she needs to go far". Kieron Pepper of The Prodigy has gone on the record to state that "I really like it, it's got that clubby, more Lady Gaga feel, aimed at the end of secondary school kids, in the right hands on TikTok this will go crazy". She was even selected to sing for some royal visitors to Coventry this week too.
Abz herself has said how much she rates this track herself & I agree with her: in terms of live performances she can do no more than she is already doing on stage: she always gives it 100% and has that charisma which not everyone is blessed with. Now at last she will be able to remind everyone of that side of her talents. Equally, I can't think that she can improve on her writing: like I say, "B.S." has everything necessary for that breakthrough moment and if the title offends anyone, then shame on them. Kieron Pepper seems to think that it will appeal to a narrow audience: with all due respect to someone with so much more talent & experience than me, I think he's wrong and it will strike a wider chord. I certainly hope so.
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