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Richard Hawley: Coles Corner (2005) February 17, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Richard Hawley: Coles Corner

Richard Hawley: Coles Corner

On the front cover a man stands, waiting and looking for someone, holding flowers. On the back cover the flowers are stuffed into a trashcan. This, then, may be an album of love songs, but they aren’t happy and upbeat.

Coles Corner is where, years ago, people in Sheffield used to go to meet their dates for an evening out. Fittingly, this album has a strongly nostalgic feel, as though it could almost have been recorded in the 1950s.

The album starts with the title song’s swelling strings, fading out to make way for a loungey arrangement of drums, bass, and piano, with occasional string accents, over which Hawley’s baritone croon enters. The chorus sticks in my mind every time I play this:  “I’m going downtown where there’s music, I’m going where voices fill the air, maybe there’s someone waitin’ for me, with a smile and a flower in her hair. I’m going downtown where there’s people, my loneliness hangs in the air. No one there real waitin’ for me, no smile, no flower, nowhere.” It’s something like the downbeat, morose songs that the Smiths and Morrissey sometimes did about love and loneliness, but played absolutely straight and without the least hint of rock, indie or otherwise.

The next song, “Just Like the Rain,” starts out with guitars and bass and a more upbeat feel, an almost country/pop crossover from the 1950s or 1960s. It’s followed by the ’50s slow dance tune “Hotel Room,” and then by the somewhat Chris Isaak-like “Darlin’ Wait for Me,” a slow song with an electric guitar lead that could soundtrack a David Lynch scene. The strings are back for the epic “The Ocean,” a slow burner that builds up to a dramatic conclusion over it’s five and a half minutes. On an LP, this would be the climax to side one.

The second half of the album starts with the catchy (but still not quite upbeat) “Born Under a Bad Sign,” another of those songs with rock band instrumentation (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums), with a feel both reminiscent of the ’50s and yet timeless, again a little like Chris Isaak at his best. “I Sleep Alone,” driven by strummed acoustic guitars, picks up the pace a little. “Tonight” is back in ballad territory, and this time it’s not too hard to imagine Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins arranging a version of this for Sinatra. “(Wading Through) The Waters of my Time,” by contrast, is an old-fashioned, acoustic country song that Johnny Cash could have sung. “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?” is a stripped down lullaby, mainly Hawley’s echoing voice and a little accompaniment from an acoustic guitar. The final song, “Last Orders,” starts with some slow reverbed piano notes, revealing itself slowly as a strangely fitting atmospheric, ambient instrumental to close out the album’s journey into night.

So, I’ve mentioned a few points of comparison; I can also hear a hint of Ricky Nelson (it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hawley’s covered the latter’s song “Lonesome Town” elsewhere). But it doesn’t come across as a series of imitations; the album flows very well and takes you into its own world.

Hawley’s albums before and after this one are very, very good. This one, though, is perfect.

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