Richard Hawley | Standing at the Sky’s Edge (Parlaphone)

hawley standingHis songs are really good to sit and relax to while enjoying generous amounts of bourbon.

 

 

Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Richard Hawley’s seventh solo release, has the Sheffield, England, crooner venturing much deeper into the somber territories he started with his previous release, Truelove’s Gutter. For those not familiar with Hawley, he is a baritone singer-songwriter who initially gained fame in the height of the Britpop era as the guitarist for the Longpigs, and later as a touring guitarist for Pulp. He is an icon in the Sheffield music scene and may be best known to U.S. fans for his assistance with Elbow’s “The Fix” from 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid. Hawley’s prior solo works can best be described as smooth, unpretentious lounge music mixed with elements of rockabilly. His songs are really good to sit and relax to while enjoying generous amounts of bourbon. He’s a man from a different time and place. His songs are sad but you would never know it based on the smile on your face, your toe a-tappin’, and the love-of-life feeling you have.

With his last release, Truelove’s Gutter, Hawley took a much darker turn, and continues that trend here. The first thing you notice: Richard brought the guitar. He is an exceptional guitar player in his own right, but with this release, it’s in the forefront. The feel of the album as a whole is much heavier, brooding, psychedelic, and spacey. This is easiest the hardest he’s sounded since his heyday with the Longpigs. He’s ditched the lush arrangements and strings in previous releases for distortion, sitars, and a thunderous, almost primal rhythm section. That’s not to say every song is heavy. He does still maintain a certain amount of lushness here, particularly on tracks like “Time Will Bring You Winter,” “Seek It,” “The Wood Colliers Grave,” and “Before.” They’ve just been warped and turned on their ear slightly.

Lyrically, the album deals with themes such as murder, religion, people down and out, and love. As with much of Hawley’s previous work, many of the songs are set in or about Sheffield. Many of the subjects are down on their luck, but not completely irredeemable. “She Brings the Sunlight” kicks things off with a song of murder, and the album doesn’t really let up much from there. Thankfully, the listener is given a brief reprieve dead center with “Seek It,” “Don’t Stare at the Sun,” and “The Wood Colliers Grave,” which are really the only tracks that give you a hint of Hawley’s previous work. And “Seek It”—I believe it’s a love song about and to his wife.

Standout tracks are “She Brings the Sunlight,” the title track, “Down in the Woods,” “Seek It,” and the stellar closer “Before.” If you are fan of The Verve and Mark Lanegan, this should be up your alley. This is an essential album in modern, 21st century psychedelic rock. A+ | Mike Koehler

RIYL: The Verve, Mark Lanegan, The Longpigs

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