Richard Hawley - Hollow Meadows

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2015-09-11

Hawley’s baritone is not as sumptuous as early Scott Walker, or as narrative in style as Leonard Cohen, or as drippingly saccharine as Kurt Ellington. Neither is it beset by quirks like the yodelling book-smart tone of Elvis Costello, or the whiskey-soaked croaking of Lee Hazlewood or Mark Lanegan. Hawley’s voice is a pure and straight ahead baritone, as reliable and warm as a hot water bottle during that hideous northern hemisphere winter. 

Just how he chooses to augment that impressive voice seems to be the issue on his solo works. I generally prefer the more experimental psychedelic threads of ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’, his album from 2012. 

On Hollow Meadows, ‘Which Way’ is the standout track, all fuzzy freak-out psych guitar and rich arrangements, sounding like it might have been short-listed for a 1960s Bond film. The secret to Hawley’s vocals is that he never embellishes too much, no quavering or warbling, or other annoying ornamentation, and this is why he survives as the indie people’s choice of crooner. Mark Lanegan occasionally does this well, particularly on his solo album many years ago called ‘Field Songs’ unadorned and beautiful renditions of folky songs with little recourse to cynicism or negativity.

There's a romanticism in Hawley’s work. How he gently tugs at the heart strings with devices like the yearning bent string guitar of ‘Long Time Down’, or the cooing choral backdrops, the little symphonic trills (‘Nothing Like a Friend’), or the spooky synths gentling lending mystique to his balladry (‘Welcome the Sun’). 

As always, he has the good taste to vary his entertainment, rocking out on the penultimate number ‘Heart of Oak’. Good stuff.   

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