Hollow Meadows

Richard Hawley

(LP - Warner Bros. #174)

Review by Thom Jurek

In 2012, songwriter Richard Hawley released Standing at the Sky's Edge, an album that proved a stark contrast to his earlier recordings, making a hard-rocking turn at psychedelia. In Great Britain it struck a collective chord and reached number three on the charts. Hollow Meadows, co-produced with guitarist Shez Sheridan and Colin Elliot, doesn't follow suit so much as integrate some of those sounds with those explored on his earliest records, in particular Late Night Final and Lowedges. Hawley wrote most of these songs at home in Sheffield while recuperating from a broken leg and a slipped disc. As is his penchant, this is titled for a local destination: his ancestral home, "Auley Meadows," is where his ancestors resided between the 14th and 17th centuries. These 11 songs are direct, intimate, and more often than not delivered in first person singular no matter the topic, be it romance, disillusionment, aging, relationships, or vulnerability -- or a daughter leaving home. Arrangements are widely varied but always precisely -- often sparsely -- applied. They can offset brooding lyrics with bright textures and simple backdrops. The album's most romantic track is opener "I Still Want You." The lilting, classic pop melody ever so gently rocks, and is shaded by tasteful strings and dreamy, reverb-laden guitars. Hawley's vocal comes from his demo (as do several other tracks here), and actually cracks his silvery baritone: "...We can move our bodies like a twist of smoke/Come let us shake like the flameā€¦" This flaw conveys the simmering passion in the words and music with restraint. Elsewhere, the spacious, gauzy "The World Looks Down," the crooning pop of "Serenade of Blue," the cello- and piano-based "Tuesday," and the classy, mellow "Nothing Like a Friend" (with a Rhee Kee super bass played by Jarvis Cocker), revisit the early rock melodies and harmonies Hawley showcased on those early solo records and developed later -- albeit with more adventurous instrumentation, airier textures, and more poignant lyrics. Folk legend Martin Simpson paints "Long Time Down" with a resonator slide guitar and bright banjo amid a chorus of female backing vocals. Despite its sunny delivery, the narrative depicts a dangerous co-dependent relationship. While "Which Way" recalls Standing at the Sky's Edge, the gospel-style backing chorus lends the fuzzy, distorted rocker a spiritual heft. The other uptempo cut here is "Mighty Oak," a catchy tribute to folksinger Norma Waterson, with a singalong chorus. Commencing as a shuffle it builds and turns into a screaming guitar frenzy -- without sacrificing its hook. Hawley doesn't showcase particular themes on Hollow Meadows as he has in the past. Instead, he turns his light squarely on the craft of writing and delivering great songs. For those who made his acquaintance on the Mute albums -- Cole's Corner, Lady's Bridge, Truelove's Gutter -- or even Standing at the Sky's Edge, this loose-knit set just might be revelatory.

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