Not many people could reference to a slaughterhouse in a song and still have it sound meltingly romantic. But, as we’ve known for years, Richard Hawley’s that extra bit special and Long Time Down, which features neighbour and friend Martin Simpson on slide guitar and banjo, is a gorgeous, reflective love song from the man with the honeyed baritone who holds the 21st century trademark for the term croon.
After the riffs and psychedelic feel of Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Hawley’s returned to the mellow, log fire warmth of his earlier work, his eighth and, once more, named for a landmark in or around Sheffield. This time it’s a reference to a village in South Yorkshire, Hollow Meadows being the site of a former hospital of the same name, formerly called Auley Meadows, Auley being a corruption of Hawley, the name of an old local family, just part of the research he turned up playing family tree while recovering from a broken leg and bad back.
Not that that has anything to do with the songs themselves, other than perhaps underscoring the air of reflection and nostalgia that pervades, not to mention the autobiographical input that informs album closer, What Love Means, a tender acoustic, harpsichord accompanied farewell to his daughter as she prepares to leave for university where you can detect a hint of a crack in the voice as the emotions surface.
There are a couple of uptempo numbers with Which Way, a driving, guitar riffing stab of moody gospel rock, and Heart of Oak, an Orbison-esque folk-rock marching beat chug. The latter was inspired in part by folk icon friend Norma Waterson whom he directly references in the lyrics, “When you sang the Bay Of Biscay/The world drifted away.” Other than these, Hollow Meadows is a dreamy, wistful, curling-smoke affair.
The gentle, open-hearted, I Still Want You introduces proceedings with a strings-backed slow waltz before sliding into The World Looks Down, both of which feature Nancy Kerr on fiddle. Kerr and Simpson aren’t the only famous names lending their talents, that’ll be Jarvis Cocker on 60s bass synth on the shimmeringly sublime Nothing Like A Friend, a reflection on time passing and enduring friendship, a song you could almost imagine Sinatra singing.
Then the slow swaying romance of Sometimes I Feel (a song which includes the metaphorical observation that, if you want a clean shirt, you’ve got to wash it) features the chorale voices of the Hick Street Chip Shop Singers (another local nod), a collection of various Sheffield friends, including Kerr and Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor.
A languid air also blows softly through the softly tumbling chords of Serenade of Blue that perfectly reflects the lines about staring up at the starry skies while what I assume to be mellotron and drone introduces Welcome The Sun, a six minute folk ballad that shows the moodier side of the last album’s psychedelia and sees Hawley’s register dropping into almost Cash territory.
While snuggle-up romantic declarations hold sway, there is also a reminder that love doesn’t always run smooth in the hymnal, strings and piano-accompanied Tuesday pm which features the line “not everyone is bulletproof on the battlefield”, a song that more openly shows the vulnerability frequently lurking inside Hawley’s lyrics.
“Sorry I’ve been away too long, I needed just a little more time”, he sings on the album’s opening lines. No need to apologise, as they know in Yorkshire, the best tea takes a while to brew and this is one of his finest yet.
Review by: Mike Davies
On October 25th Hawley will undertake a 13-date tour of the UK and Ireland. This will be his longest UK tour in three years and include his largest ever Sheffield show, when he plays his first hometown show in over two years, at Sheffield Arena on November 6th.
Sun 25th Oct – Brighton Dome
Mon 26th Oct – Cambridge Corn Exchange
Tue 27th Oct – Birmingham Institute
Wed 28th Oct – Scarborough Spa – Grand Hall
Fri 30th Oct – Dublin Vicar Street
Sun 1st Nov – Leeds O2 Academy
Mon 2nd Nov – Manchester Albert Hall
Tue 3rd Nov – Gateshead Sage
Thu 5th Nov – Glasgow Barrowland
Fri 6th Nov – Sheffield Arena – Steel Hall
Sun 8th Nov – London Roundhouse
Mon 9th Nov – Bristol Colston Hall
Tue 10th Nov – Southampton Guildhall