Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter (2009)


Much like Nick Lowe, Sheffield-based crooner Richard Hawley has forged a career by mining rich seams of Americana, while somehow still making music with a strong sense of place – in his case, a northern English one. With 2007’s Lady’s Bridge having finally got him a modicum of the recognition he deserves, this sixth effort is something of an event. Truelove’s Gutter is also the closest he’s come to a ‘concept album’, or song cycle; and it’s a classic flawed masterpiece.

The lush but uncluttered arrangements feature some grandiose string sections and various obscure or archaic instruments such as ‘megabass waterphone’ and ‘crystal baschet’. It’s this, and the fact that the songs are longer and more down-tempo than before (and less immediately memorable), that may initially raise alarms. Has Mr Hawley run out of tunes and retreated into sonic artifice? Not a bit of it. Repeated plays reveal some truly sumptuous treasures.

It’s obvious the artist has put a lot of thought into the running order, kicking off with the artificial bird calls, sleepy ambience and gloomy, rain-flecked imagery of As the Dawn Breaks. The sequence from the hushed ennui of Ashes on the Fire through to Don’t Get Hung Up on Your Soul, with its haunting musical saw accompaniment, is as close to perfection as anything he’s done. Between them lies the album’s heart-beat and emotional linchpin, the brooding meditation of Remorse Code. Instantly unforgettable, it unfurls with breathtaking grace and surprising economy over nearly ten minutes, and has a lovely, understated guitar solo.

His strengths and weakness as a lyricist are laid bare by the sparse, moody atmospheres. While the warts-and-all romantic realism of For Your Lover, Give Some Time has laugh-out-loud lines and Ashes From the Fire makes clichés seem convincing, both Open Up Your Door and Soldier On are repetitious, the latter marred by a bombastic interlude that breaks the prevailing mood.

Aside from this, it’s the sheer beauty and unity of feel that make this a more than worthy addition to the Hawley discography. Truelove’s Gutter takes risks but doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. bbc

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