ome records beg a certain atmosphere in order to be played. Put them on outside of a particular time frame and they warp a bit, sounding odd and out-of-place at best, annoying at worst. Scott Walker falls into this category, as does Ennio Morricone, and Joni Mitchell. And then some records that would seem to be set in a definitive time category manage to transcend it. It's not that they're better than the above. There's just an unnamable element present in the music that shapes the air around it and grabs under the skin in a few notes. Aphex Twin can do this, as can New Order and Sonic Youth. Richard Hawley's fourth solo release, and his first masterpiece, Coles Corner, falls into the latter category and that is one of the most surprising and charming things about it. From the cover shot to the opening strings to the lulling sound of Hawley's voice, this one had Late Evening/Sunday Morning CD chiseled right into it. As it turns out, Coles Corner grabs the molecules in any room, car, or iPod earphone and says: This is perfect right NOW, so keep on playing.
Richard Hawley has had an interesting career. The 1990s saw him as the guitarist for the Longpigs, an eloquently earnest alt-rock outfit. After the band dissolved, Hawley became the touring guitarist for Pulp and recorded on their undersold (in North America) We Love Life. He then began recording his own songs and realized that was what he had been looking for all along. Or at least it sounds that way. Hawley sings with the resolve of a man with nothing to lose, yet far from defeated. On Coles Corner, Hawley pulls an Elvis Costello and shows off how his voice gets better with age. Now he's treading territory with Johnny Cash and (I do not say this lightly) a hint of Frank Sinatra (Capitol years). Succinctly, it's a classic and classy sound.
Now combine the voice with the instrumentation and the production. There's nary a slip. Everything is wound to precision. It all sounds vibrant, as if the listener had just walked into the best smoky bar in the world and the house band knew her exact mood and thoughts. And it doesn't falter. On previous Hawley releases, the whole of the record could get lost for a few standout tracks. There was a tendency to forego dynamics for mood. Not this time around. This is a quietly pulsing release, alive with simple pleasures and celebrating events like hanging out and running into people you know.
It was tempting to have this review read one word: Wonderful! Cole's Corner is surely hard to describe as it doesn't stand out in any particular way records need to in order to be noticed these days. It's not particularly quirky, nor does it contain inscrutable lyrics. It's not breaking new ground. The production is balanced, not an infiltration technique designed for hipness. It is a Late Evening/Sunday Morning record, but mostly it is much, much more than that.
Reviewed by: Jill LaBrack
Reviewed on: 2005-09-29