Richard Hawley: Coles Corner

Though Coles Corner, Richard Hawley's follow-up to Late Night Final (2001) and Lowedges (2003), evokes the classic eras of the ‘50s and ‘60s, it simultaneously transcends them with music of such purity it's virtually timeless; even better, his music refreshingly opts for unaffected sincerity over irony. Throughout the album's eleven songs, echoes of The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Rick Nelson, and Hank Williams rub shoulders with modern-day artists like Chris Isaak, k.d. lang, and even Morrissey. But don't dismiss Coles Corner as pastiche: Hawley's sound is his own, even if it aligns itself within a classic tradition.

The Sheffield native has been making quite a name for himself in recent days, performing as a special guest of R.E.M. and Nancy Sinatra on their European tours, while also co-producing two tracks on her eponymous 2004 album. Hawley comes by his rock'n'roll roots honestly, with a mother who once sang with The Everly Brothers on the back steps of Sheffield City Hall and a Gene Vincent-obsessed father who performed with Eddie Cochran. Hawley himself played in Treebound Story and The Longpigs in his early days and later joined Pulp on a world tour in support of This Is Hardcore before stepping out as a solo artist.

Coles Corner runs the gamut from chugging rockabilly (“I Sleep Alone”) to chiming country-folk (“Just Like the Rain”), epic string-laden balladry (“The Ocean”), and romantic melodrama (“Tonight”). Some songs are stark (the lullaby-waltz “Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” is, in fact, so skeletal ghostly echo conspicuously trails the vocal) while others, like the title track, are orchestrally lush. Draping Hawley's baritone over a caress of strings, piano, acoustic bass, and drums, the wistful ballad “Coles Corner” lyrically echoes “Downtown” in its quest for salvation (“Going downtown where's there's music/Going where voices fill the air/Maybe there's someone waiting for me/With a smile and a flower in her hair”), though the mood is more melancholy than celebratory; regardless, the song's got 'instant classic' written all over it. With its plinking piano, “Hotel Room” boasts a warm '50s feel, with a steel guitar solo especially accentuating its similarity to “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” (not to mention “Blue Moon”). Elsewhere, one could imagine Roy Orbison pleading the desperate lyrics of “Wait for Me” while “Born Under a Bad Sign” sounds like nothing less than a lost ballad by The Smiths. Hawley ends Coles Corner with “Last Orders,” a piano epilogue written in a cab on the way to the studio and recorded in a single take. Though it's the singular instance where his evocative voice doesn't appear, it seems somehow fitting that this charming collection should end so peacefully.

September 2005