Since coming in from the cold, Richard Hawley has enjoyed the kind of critical, if not commercial, success previously denied him as guitarist with ill-starred indie favourites The Longpigs. After the band's label went belly up and old mucker Jarvis Cocker had thrown a lifeline (hiring him for Pulp's This Is Hardcore tour), he struck out alone, releasing 2001's eponymous mini LP and equally lovely follow-up, Late Night Final. Now he's delivered the assured collection he's always promised.
Almost uniquely among sidemen/guitarist solo albums, Hawley resists the urge to riff, eschewing amp-cranking bravura for more meditative horizons. His brooding, velvety croon might have something to do with it, too. This is good, old-fashioned balladeering but with enough street savvy to scupper suggestions of pastiche. Imagine Frankie Laine meets Lambchop.
Meanwhile, the arrangements are sublime, bringing to mind the doomed romantic allure of Jack Nitzsche's 1963 surf-pop classic The Lonely Surfer or Billy Strange's work on Hawley hero Lee Hazlewood's MGM sides (it's no coincidence that, with other kids embroiled in punk anarchy or disco fever, young Hawley and his old man were trawling through vinyl fairs in search of elusive Hazlewood protégé Sanford Clark cuts or Del-Vikings doowop).
It's also to his credit that, despite an audacious line-up of instruments (six- and 12-string guitars, enchanted lyre, Omnichord, Spanish guitar, baby glockenspiel, strings, mellotron), the whole coheres like one seamless, impressionistic moodpiece, allowing Hawley's voice to drift along the skyline.
"The Only Road" and "You Don't Miss Your Water" are the album's most impressive tracks, while the Hawaiian guitar that quietly peals throughout the countryish "Darlin'" and the instrumental "Danny" should banish all those lazy, grimy Northern journalistic metaphors forever.
Rating: 4 / 10