Release Date: Sep 11, 2015
Record label: Parlophone
The last time we heard from Richard Hawley he was flirting with psych-rock. Three years later, he’s returned to what he does best - reflecting on Sheffield and life’s vicissitudes in a voice that suggests smoking does have its rewards. Hollow Meadows, written while Hawley was at home recovering from a slipped disc and a broken leg, finds the crooner at his most affecting and fragile.
You can never take Richard Hawley at face value. In his world, things are exactly what they appear to be – yet they are more than that, too. Take opener I Still Want You – which builds from gentle beginnings to one of his trademark panoramic choruses, and for which Hawley retained his original demo vocal, a cracked beauty among the sumptuous arrangement – and the lyric, “Now I don’t want to lower the tone/But you know there’s still a little spare meat on the bone.
You used to know where we were with a Richard Hawley album. Unabashed old-fashioned romanticism? Check. Lushly orchestrated ballads? Check again. That deep, rich voice cracking with emotion? Check yet again. An album title referencing an area of Hawley’s beloved hometown, Sheffield? Oh but of ….
“I don't want to lower the tone, but ya know that there's still a little spare meat on the bone”, intones the gloriously world-weary Richard Hawley as 'I Still Want You', the opening track on his new album, Hollow Meadows rises from its initial torpor into a string-laden cinematic chorus. And it immediately feels like we're home. Hawley's voice, and his songwriting modus operandi, have become an increasingly revered part of Britain's alternative pop landscape over the last few years, and not just because he has a heap of famous friends and collaborators.
Arctic Monkeys’ main man Alex Turner might have spent the past few years dipping deep into his tub of Black & White hair pomade and lobbying hard for the position of official Sheffield Elvis, but it’s a role that was filled a long time ago. The smoothest man in South Yorkshire has always been Richard Hawley. He’s a crooner in the vintage sense, from his honeyed vocals to his horn-rimmed specs.
In 2012, songwriter Richard Hawley released Standing at the Sky's Edge, an album that proved a stark contrast to his earlier recordings, making a hard-rocking turn at psychedelia. In Great Britain it struck a collective chord and reached number three on the charts. Hollow Meadows, co-produced with guitarist Shez Sheridan and Colin Elliot, doesn't follow suit so much as integrate some of those sounds with those explored on his earliest records, in particular Late Night Final and Lowedges.
Richard Hawley has always felt of another time. His first few records traded on this timelessness, using deceptively simple melodies and little adornment to put the true star, his astonishing voice, center stage. As his solo career progressed, Hawley slowly shifted more into the now, expanding and refining his sound. As always, that voice carried the day.
Richard Hawley’s eighth album begins with I Still Want You, on which his creamy baritone sounds like it has been lightly dusted with sandpaper. It ends with What Love Means, a song about his daughter leaving home, which sees those same vocal chords momentarily lose their assuredness and waver. These bookends remind us that considering Hawley merely as a nostalgia act, as some still do, is lazy: with his albums, each one named after a Sheffield locale, Hawley has created a unique, atmospheric emotional landscape out of the finest of details.
After the avant-garde balladry of Truelove’s Gutter and the sociopolitcal psych rock of Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Sheffield auteur Richard Hawley returns to his roots on Hollow Meadows. Turning down the volume and cranking up the romance, Hawley revives his distinctive brand of easy listening with his croon in good standing and as fine a set of songs as he’s ever penned. “I Still Want You” and “Serenade of Blue” reiterate his touch with lovelorn balladry, while “The World Looks Down” and “Long Time Down” reassert his mastery of gentle pop.
There ought to be some sort of an investigation into Richard Hawley‘s impact on Sheffield’s tourism trade. Who knows how many visitors to the city may have chosen to spend a few extra hours there in order find out just what Coles Corner is and how get to Truelove’s Gutter, all thanks to Hawley’s habit of naming his albums after locations in his beloved hometown? Hawley's eighth studio album maintains the tradition; Hollow Meadows is named after an area of the city where the Hawley family is believed to have resided between the 13th and 17th centuries. The album is a sort of a return to the roots in other ways, too.