When I discovered that Richard Hawley was releasing his latest album, Lady’s Bridge, in the states just a short time after its UK release, I immediately laid claim to the review. It’s not for the usual reasons that critics get excited over artists. Hawley is not necessarily a young star on the rise. Although some may be just beginning to hear of him, Hawley has been a respected touring and session musician as well as being in the band Longpigs and releasing three previous albums. It’s not because Hawley is the harbinger of some new kind of sound. In fact, Hawley’s music is rooted in ’50s rockabilly, like Gene Vincent, and ’60s British Beat, like the Walker Brothers. It’s also not because Hawley is using some kind of forced nostalgia, like the swing dance fad from the ’90s or the perpetual retreat into the ’80s employed by most of today’s acts. No, with Richard Hawley, there’s just no denying, it’s all about the music. Hawley’s songs are the genuine article, simple yet poetic, grandiose and sentimental. Lady’s Bridge is Hawley’s best album yet, another installment in his musical tribute to his hometown of Sheffield, England.
Richard Hawley’s previous recordings, starting in 2002 with Late Night Final, all revolved around Sheffield, with titles that honored one of England’s eight biggest cities. With Coles Corner, Hawley crooned forlorn love songs revolving around a now demolished Sheffield landmark where lovers would meet. Lady’s Bridge continues the tradition, referring to the bridge that separates the poor part of town that Hawley grew up in and the rich part of town. No one else has been able to immerse me in a time and place as much as Hawley’s music has. Listening to his music is like watching L.A. Confidential, with music and imagery capturing a locale unlike anything else before it. Thanks to Hawley’s devotion and love for his home, his listeners get a chance to experience it the way he does, with reverence, adoration and sometimes-harsh realities.
Hawley claims that songwriting is easy, at least the germination of the ideas behind the songs, but that he works very hard on polishing those songs and stripping them down to their barest essences. But, considering the end result, they can’t be that easy, because then wouldn’t everyone be creating music this great? Simply taking the opening track, “Valentine,” a song about the loss of a loved one, you know that there’s no one else making music like this today. Forty years ago, maybe, but not today. “Valentine” is like a Roy Orbison track meeting the Walker Brothers with bombastic flourishes of strings lending an overwhelming sense of emotion and loss. Hawley’s voice is unaffected, timeless and truly astounding. The only comparison I can think of is to Morrissey, someone who delivers each song with power and gravitas, yet without divulging anything particularly hidden or emotional.
The first singles from Lady’s Bridge are the rollicking rockabilly flavored “Serious” and “Tonight the Streets Are Ours.” “Serious” is a song that again transports us to a particular place and time with its Duane Eddy, Gene Vincent guitar twangs. “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” could be a defining moment in Hawley’s career, a sweet and melodious song that will induce reverie, romanticism and rebellion all at the same time. Although these songs are considered `singles,’ thanks to the way the music market works in Great Britain, they are no more or less spectacular than other tracks on Lady’s Bridge. This album is a true testament to the strength of Hawley’s songwriting abilities. Each track is a force of its own, such as the Johnny Cash-like “Dark Road,” the rapidly paced doo-wop meets the Smiths plaintive lyrics of “I’m Looking for Someone to Find Me,” the swelling dramatic horns of “Our Darkness,” or the muffled drums and lonely and sad twanging steel of “The Sun Refused to Shine,” all of which could easily have been singles as well. That’s because Hawley doesn’t write ‘singles,’ he writes songs and albums of songs that fit a particular theme or feeling.
The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner opened up the band’s Mercury Prize acceptance speech with the line, “Someone call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed.” Turner’s sentiment was shared by many, feeling that Coles Corner was easily the best album of that year. Little did they know that Hawley had more magic in him, released in the form of Lady’s Bridge. While a lot of acts that you may see nominated for the Mercury Prize will fizzle and fade over time, Hawley, with his timeless sound and brilliant songcraft, will remain for years to come. Richard Hawley once tried out for Morrissey’s backing band, apparently not getting the gig. He was offered the chance to make a bunch of money writing for Robbie Williams, but turned it down. Fate has put Hawley where he is today, and we are the lucky recipients of that bit of kismet, in the forms of Coles Corner and the equal, if not better, Lady’s Bridge. I’ll easily be a Hawley fan until I die.