Richard Hawley - Coles Corner (Mute)
26 May 2006
Our generation's answer to Ol' Blue Eyes? Not too crazy a statement, if 'Coles Corner' is anything to go by.
'Coles Corner' is a crooner's record; let's get that straight from the get-go. If you have no affinity to the baritones of Sinatra or Monro then take heed: this LP is set in a smoky jazz cellar-bar with green lampshades, and the venue is definitely not down your street.
That said, 'Coles Corner' could bridge the chasm that has opened between our age and the one this reminisces. Much as Cash was to country music, so could Hawley be to the crooner's ballad. Certainly where this record strays, it's into Cash's own country, as on the dreamily meandering 'Tonight' or the freewheeling 'Sleep Alone': Hawley's voice effortlessly deals the gruff and bassy along with the smooth and baritone.
Much of the album passes you by the first few times, and can superficially suffer from repetitiveness. But come listen three or four, you suddenly realise you can sing every word. The LP would lose nothing from random play, each track as strong as the next, and there's no binding concept to the affair. Perhaps the only exception is 'The Ocean', a gem of a song fastened tight in the middle of the running order, with sweeping violins and Hawley's resonant tones crashing together spectacularly. Here, as throughout, the 1 or 2 bar guitar licks stick in the head like a second vocal melody, and you find yourself singing the guitar parts as much as the words: a sure sign of Hawley's otherwise underplayed prowess on the 6-string to complement those naturally suave vocal chords.
'Coles Corner' is like a 'Goodnight Sweetheart' portal to the past. Everything feels like it should be monochrome, and the music almost lacks that crackle the oldies seemed to put on everything. Surprisingly, then, the recurrent theme is simple commentary on modern daily life. Just goes to show how little some things have changed (at least up North).
The lazy country of '(Wading Through) The Waters of My Time' loses the thread a little toward the album's end: Hawley has proved himself capable of so much more than nice tunes and easy listening smooch, and to hear him resort to it is a bit of a let-down. If the nation shows enough interest to warrant a further showing, a little more thought and cleverness would be appreciated to go with that lady-ravishing voice and smooth-as-a-rat's-back production. But the simple fact is that this is a great record. Delicately poised, it never touches pastiche, but nor does it unnecessarily, garishly update that which it loves.