Richard Hawley

Coles Corner [Amber Vinyl]

(LP - Setanta #SETLP 170)

Review by

Coles Corner is Richard Hawley's fourth solo offering. He still tours as a guitarist with Pulp and does session work for a number of artists, but it is clear from his catalog that his true passion lies with making his own records. His production style is simple yet elegant, warm and graceful, with lots of space for the listener to enter into. Hawley's love of Roy Orbison, Elvis, and Scott Walker has left the best possible mark on him as a singer and songwriter: He understands that in writing a song, the most important thing is to make it immediately available to the listener as either a lived or desired experience. He paints his lyrics with melodies to get that across, then records with the intention of creating a world at once familiar and somehow utterly dreamy, timeless. Coles Corner is an intimate collection of love songs (most of them broken), where sadness and melancholy are carefully housed in forms and frames that understand the weight of the emotion communicated without letting the emotion overwhelm the song itself. They are saturated in tenderness and the heart of true romantic, not self pity or bitterness..

Coles Corner is an actual place, a corner in Sheffield, Hawley's hometown, where people have met and encountered one another by chance, to hang out, rendezvous, and commiserate since 1905. This song cycle reflects the hope experienced in some of those chance encounters as it flowers and then withers and dies. Sounds like a downer, but Hawley's melancholy is so rich and empathetic, so devoid of self pity and self assessment, it is anything but. The opening title track is like the beginning of as a suite or a film score. The Colin Elliot arranged strings ease in John Trier's piano and Hawley's voice, offering a snapshot from a man who stands alone on that corner, looking, waiting, deciding. His willingness to step out into a world of chance, into the world of people who all know what he feels is stirring. The ballad portays a world seen from outside; the protagonist's desire to enter becomes his movement toward something unknown and unexpected. "Just Like the Rain" is its mirror image, a song fueled by thin, shimmering guitars, articulated against restlessness and a desire for return, to find the ghost that has haunted the narrator. Here, echoes of Mickey Newbury's and Johnny Cash's stylized country story songs ("Sleep Alone") Charlie Rich's and Roy Orbison's balladry ("Darlin Wait for Me") permeate Hawley's delivery; they alternate with traces of Walker, Jacques Brel, and even the Frank Sinatra of "In the Wee Small Hours" ("The Ocean") to incarnate something completely and utterly his own. "Hotel Room," is an old-school rock & roll crooned ballad that iterates the magical nature of a tryst that feels like it exists outside of time and space and the margins of the universe are demarcated by four walls and the bed that is the lovers' sanctuary. And so it goes. Reveries, nostalgia, longed-for wishes, regret, sadness, and the bittersweet mark of the beloved left on the heart of the left and lost. Early rock & roll and rockabilly, country, traces of the vintage-'40s pop, jazz, and blues, fall together on a dimly lit, intimate streetcorner that has witnessed it all. Hawley's guitar sound rings like a voice from another era; it underscores both emotion and story in his voice. There isn't a moment on Coles Corner that doesn't stand up, doesn't fall into the next, giving them all uncommon, even singular depth and dimension. And the singer's voice conjures shadows, glimmers of soft light, street lamps, tears, and the sound of lonely steps on a rainy midnight street. Coles Corner is expertly assembled and executed. It is magical and utterly lovely.

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