Album Review: Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows

By on Wednesday, 9th September 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Richard Hawley Hollow Meadows album coverYears ago when I first became a follower of Richard Hawley’s in the ‘Coles Corner’ era, my mum asked me to describe him. “He’s like the Sheffield Morrissey”, I suggested, being put on the spot. I was trying to come up with an appropriate singer to compare Hawley with. For me, it’s always been Hawley’s velvety voice that has kept me a devoted fan. (Behind his voice, his peerless songwriting comes in as a close second.) ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’, Hawley’s 2012 Mercury Prize-nominated disc of psychedelia was in your face and certainly loud, but it left me completely cold. So I’m truly chuffed to announce that 3 years later, he’s gone back to the floaty, softer aesthetics of ‘Coles Corner’ for his eighth studio album ‘Hollow Meadows’.

Hawley has certainly earned his stripes musically as a member of the Longpigs and Pulp and then as a solo artist. But interestingly, it was a recent period of involuntary, bedridden convalescence – caused by a broken leg sustained on the ‘Standing…’ tour campaign and an ensuing sit-up injury to get back into shape – that caused Sheffield’s elder statesman of rock, still in his leather jacket and smoking a fag, to reflect on life and re-evaluate his own existence:

“I remember the sight of two wrens making a nest in the icy cold, with all this snow – that totally poleaxed me, and in essence, told me to get a grip on my own situation. I wouldn’t have wished it upon anybody, but it’s a good test of your humanity. You could lay there and get vitriolic. Or you could slow down and allow yourself to notice things that we’re normally too busy to notice. You can allow your world to become smaller or bigger. And, actually, the world started to seem much bigger to me. Watching the crows fly past the window in the morning, and then watching them go off again at night. Listening to the kids playing outside.”

It makes total sense, then, that Hawley’s latest effort, borne out a greater awareness as well as appreciation for the world around him, has a more thoughtful bent. Any heaviness on ‘Hollow Meadows’ is the weight of the observations he makes about what he sees through new eyes, processed through a hazy filter. Beginning with ‘I Still Want You’, he proves he’s still a deft hand at writing a beautiful ballad. This gorgeousness is revisited flawlessly in ‘Serenade in Blue’, then in ‘Sometimes I Feel’. ‘The World Looks Down’ disapprovingly, though in a way that still comes across dreamy and ephemeral, while ‘Nothing Like a Friend’ conveys regret as Hawley previously broached on ‘Valentine’, albeit now in a more restrained way.

‘Long Time Down’, whose title directly addresses Hawley’s forced downtime, is jaunty in its own sweet way, also features the banjo-playing talents of his Sheff neighbour Martin Simpson. On ‘Welcome the Sun’, slow but wigged out guitar notes are the closest Hawley gets back to the psychedelic bent of the last album. However, the expansive nature of the 6-minute track is more cinematic than trippy.

However, the linchpin of this new collection from Richard Hawley is ‘Heart of Oak’, a song inspired in part by his friendship with Yorkshire born folk singer Norma Waterson. Classic guitar chords bolster the simple yet stunning lyrics, such as “You’re precious to me / like Blake’s poetry / I wish you well / my heart of oak”. It’s a moment like this that makes ‘Hollow Meadows’ feel like a personal greeting card from the man himself.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of ‘Hollow Meadows’, we are reminded that Richard Hawley knows not only how to do beauty, but he does nuanced, gentle beauty very, very well. Evocative, yet effortless.

9/10

‘Hollow Meadows’, Sheffielder Richard Hawley’s eighth solo studio album, is out this Friday, the 11th of September, on Parlophone Records. He will be touring the UK and Ireland in October and November. For previous posts on Hawley on TGTF, go here.

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