Richard Hawley is not your typical British rock singer. A Sheffield native, having spent time in original group the Longpigs, and then as the guitarist for the famous Britpop band Pulp, Hawley started to venture more towards the type of music he really wanted to make when he began his own solo career. Late Night Final and Lowedges were Hawley’s first foray into the Scott Walker/Sun Records/Burt Bacharach lounge style that fits his voice like a glove. As further proof of his dexterity in the field, he went on to produce and play on Nancy Sinatra’s comeback album and the debut from Bacharach follower A Girl Called Eddy, besides working with other lounge-y artists like Robbie Williams.
One could think of no better visual and attitudinal mentor for the world of cocktail parties and swagger than Jarvis Cocker, even though his band’s music tends more toward the keyboard-heavy British rock of this era. And even if Cocker did serve as a mentor, the student has since surpassed the master, at least in this area. Hawley’s third album, Coles Corner is a delicate framework of romantic songs based on a corner in Sheffield where couples used to meet at the start of a date. The actual Coles Corner doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been replaced by a John Lewis department store, but thanks to Hawley, the romance in the air still lingers on a cold Sheffield night in front of the shop called Cole Brothers.
“I’m goin downtown where’s theres music / Goin’ where voices fill the air / Maybe there’s someone waiting for me / With a smile and a flower in her hair.”
Ahhh, romance. This is truly an album for lovers. Hawley gorgeously croons his way through his reverent songs of yesteryear, evoking the memories of those alive when the corner was still a rendezvous point, and causing his young fans to want to make memories of their own. “Hotel Room” recalls Elvis at his most potent while “Wait for Me” could have been alongside Chris Martin’s “‘Til Kingdom Come” on the lost American V from Johnny Cash. “Born Under a Bad Sign” could stand alongside some of the best songs from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore soundtrack.
The two most remarkable things about this album both have to do with Richard Hawley himself. His buttery baritone reminds one of Edwyn Collins or Brian Setzer while his beautiful guitar work also recalls the latter person. Songs like “Wading Through the Water” sound like they could have been written by or for Johnny Cash in his Sun Studios days. He even tried to duplicate the same style of recording by just having himself, his guitar and a microphone, as simple as that. Both “Wading” and the final track, the haunting echo-y piano dirge “Last Orders,” were recorded in one take. Other songs have huge lush string arrangements to go on top of the guitar, but the end result is the same, beautifully written and arranged songs that hearken back to times past. Richard Hawley is an artist who is a true talent, writing the songs he wants to write, and doing it extremely well. My wife and I have been planning a trip to London for years now, it seems, and I’ll have to add a jaunt to the old Coles Corner now for good measure.
Brian Setzer- The Knife Feels Like Justice
Johnny Cash- Solitary Man: American III
Edwyn Collins- Gorgeous George