Richard Hawley: Lady's Bridge

It's hard to imagine Hawley could possibly match 2006's magnificent (and Mercury Music Prize-nominated) Coles Corner yet he may have done exactly that with Lady's Bridge. Classic tunes just seem to effortlessly pour forth from the Sheffield troubadour's soul, and the new disc presents eleven of them for our collective entrancement. Perhaps Hawley's secret is that he avoids getting bogged down in obsessive self-analysis (“I write songs and I play guitar, that's it. There isn't any mystery to it,” he says) and just gets on with it, spinning one magical tune after another. In fact, the perfectly-crafted material is so seductive, one sometimes underacknowledges its serious and intensely personal lyrical dimension (consider, for example, the mournful ballad “Our Darkness”: “I'm hoping that someone will find me / I got no one to love”). That Hawley's father, Dave, lost a three-year battle with cancer during the recording process certainly may be a factor.

The album's anything but dour and one-dimensional, however. There are numerous upbeat moments (the rollicking skiff shuffle “Serious” and the even more hyper “I'm Looking for Someone to Find Me”) and dreamy ballads too (the chiming “Lady Solitude,” elegant “Lady's Bridge,” and hushed closer “The Sun Refused to Shine”). “Valentine” is as powerful and perfect an opener as Coles Corner's title track. The new song is Hawley in Roy Orbison mode reaching for the stars with a string-drenched ballad that explodes into choruses laced with a grandeur that matches the longing of its narrator (“Now you're not here anymore / Not any more”). The intensity subsides for the peaceful swing of “Roll River Roll” where Hawley's subdued voice waxes philosophical while a bluesy piano solos and strings cascade. Once again, the song is so pretty and unassuming, it's easy to miss the fact that it's essentially a longing for death's release (“Let it take me, free and unchain me”). Elsewhere, a proud cowboy, banished from society for deeds unstated, sleeps under the stars in the lonesome shuffle “Dark Road” with a twanging guitar his sole mistress, while the suitably wistful “The Sea Calls” draws a shipmate away from his lover. The gorgeous anthem “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” explodes with an exuberant longing for freedom that would make Springsteen envious (“Tonight - the streets are ours / And these lights in our hearts they tell no lies”). Everything about the song's glorious: its joyous spirit, the wall-of-sound arrangement, the explosive bridge, and its perfect three-minute running time. If Coles Corner was judged Mercury Music Prize-worthy, there's nothing to suggest Lady's Bridge shouldn't be deemed a contender too.

December 2007