sun 26/05/2024

CD: Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky's Edge | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky's Edge

CD: Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky's Edge

The classy crooner puts his foot down and turns the volume up

Less Jim Reeves, more Jimmy Page as Mr Hawley gets a reboot

The shock could barely be greater if he turned up in loon pants and a tie-dyed T-shirt and swapped his quiff for an afro. As soon as the first track on Richard Hawley's new album roars out of the speakers it signifies a change. "She Brings the Sunlight" kicks off proceedings with a squall of swirling psychedelic guitars and possibly even a sitar. More Jimmy Page than Jim Reeves. Has the inveterate smoker been on the jazz Woodbines? As a statement of intent it is pretty bold.

And even more impressively, the album largely sustains this intriguing departure. Forget the cinerama romanticism of “Tonight the Streets Are Ours”, this is brutal stuff.

There are hints of The Smiths' The Queen is Dead here, music that marks an urgent desire to push in unexpected sonic directions. The title track marries murder ballad lyricism ("Joseph was a good man but he killed his wife") to brooding blues feedback and another helping of deliciously crunchy guitar solos. "Down in the Woods" is a punkier R&B thrash, increasing the pace. Hawley has said this is an "angry" record, but it is not an explicit state-of-the-nation rant. It feels more angsty than angry, hinting at troubled ruminations on mortality and one's own impotent place in the universe.

In the second half the maximum heaviosity lifts a little with the sharp and melodically mellower "Seek It" allowing a pause for breath. "The Wood Collier's Grave" takes things down a darker path again before highlight "Leave Your Body Behind You" pulls together all of these strands, with our hero rocking out to the accompaniment of his full pedal-to-the-metal band and female backing vocals. Hawley is a famously deadpan comedian onstage. It will be interesting to see if he can find the funny side when he tours this bleak but brilliant record.

Follow Bruce Dessau on Twitter

Richard Hawley performs "Leave Your Body Behind You"

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