Richard Hawley

Lowedges

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Richard Hawley's second album, Lowedges, retains all the virtues that made his debut long-player, Late Night Final, such an out-of-left-field stunner: the late-night atmosphere, the subtle yet dramatic arrangements, Hawley's deep and expressive vocals, and, above all, the low-key and catchy songs that will have you remembering past loves, glory days, and autumn nights. It is nothing but very sentimental and emotional stuff from beginning to end without any traces of mawkishness. Hawley sings with tender resignation and, unlike most singers these days, absolutely never sings two notes where one will do. The arrangements are even more sophisticated on Lowedges, with loads of subtle strings, standup bass, twangy guitars, and more judicious use of reverb. Throughout, Hawley is fond of using swooping slide and pedal-steel guitars to provide atmosphere: on "Darlin'," the slides whisper in the background like star-crossed lovers and on "The Only Road" they hover like specters in the distance. This album features a little more dynamic range than Late Night Final. A couple songs dial the volume up a bit: "Oh My Love" has a power ballad feel with the chorus amped up with distorted guitars and massed backing vocals and "Run From Me" has an epic wall of sound and sounds like the best Bad Seeds song in many a year. A couple tunes (the chiming closer "The Nights Are Made for Us" and "I'm on Nights," which has some haunting guitar lines) bop along like weird '50s doo wop ballads. All the tunes are first-rate. Hawley is a compelling mix of the pastoral beauty of English folk rockers like Nick Drake and the urban cool of balladeers like Scott Walker with a dash of the otherworldliness of Julee Cruise. He doesn't make a false step on this album. Most likely it will be overlooked by the masses, but that's OK. They don't deserve to be hip to such a wonderfully intimate and, well, wonderful artist and record. Let's keep it a secret -- a wonderful secret.

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