“Richard Hawley’s songs are from a life where classic Americana collides with true grit Northern Britain. Where big fenders and Roy Orbison rub shoulders with Lowry.” That’s what his biography says, anyway. The funny thing is that as soon as he starts singing any idea of Northern grit disappears, because the sound is so pure American – the ’50s America when everything was still innocent.
You can hear that train coming round the bend, its whistle making that lovely mournful sound. You can almost hear the scrunch of the horse’s hooves in the scree as the cowboy hero rides off into the sunset. And yet, retro as it is, the songs somehow manage to be utterly modern at the same time.
Late Night Final is Richard Hawley’s second album, following the well received, eponymously titled mini-album released this spring. In many ways it’s the second half of that album. The gentle, reflective and melancholy songs have the same feel, and it’s great to have another 11 songs to wallow in. It’s a terrific showcase for the voice that is rightly being lauded wherever he goes.
Take Roy Orbison down a couple of octaves and you have an approximation of Richard Hawley – a voice that is so laid-back, so warm that you can’t help but smile while listening. Even when he’s singing about leaving home, being lonely or generally messed up, and even if the title of the song is The Nights Are Cold, the lingering impression is one of warmth. Love Of My Life is an elegiac track, a love song with the simplest of melodies and guitar backing – beautiful.
In fact most of these tracks are simpler than the first album, just gentle guitar, sometimes with a Hawaiian flavour (Roy Orbison immediately comes to mind again). There’s a touch of keyboards here and there, drums and percussion sometimes completely absent, as on Lonely Night, which shows the voice at its very best. In Precious Sight an organ continuo backs the voice, distorted as if through a long-distance telephone, phoning home for the last time.
Cry A Tear For The Man On The Moon is the most lugubrious of the songs, and would benefit from being speeded up just a bit – it was a better track live. Long Black Train is one of the standout tracks, and for once the train is taking him home, not away. Again the melody is utterly simple, the instruments chosen judiciously, and the voice beguiling.
The last track, the deliciously named The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Was A Train Coming The Other Way) is an irresistible instrumental: okay, he’s not just a pretty voice. You need this album almost as much as you needed the first one.