London based Americana outfit transcend influences to create something authentic, varied, original and forward-looking
Much is made of how location and environment can influence the sound a band makes but on the surface it’s not a statement that can really be directed at The Hanging Stars. They may hail from Walthamstow but it doesn’t take long to establish that their music is soaked in the more celebrated and storied surroundings of the likes of Laurel Canyon and Nashville, somewhat distanced from those of east London.
Hollow Heart, their fourth album, and their first for the Loose label, may see them continue to proudly wear their musical influences on their sleeves but they do it in a way that is extremely difficult to resist. It’s a transatlantic coming together that builds on previous albums like 2018’s Songs For Somewhere Else. If you’re looking for points of reference the glowing melodies of The Byrds, unimpeachable harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash and the alt-country fusions of The Flying Burrito Bros would present themselves as heritage options, while more contemporary alternatives would include the likes of Beachwood Sparks and The Jayhawks. Importantly however, they bring something all of their own, an effective blending of ideas and know-how.
The album was recorded at Edwyn Collins‘ Clashnarrow Studios in North-Eastern Scotland which, again, may not help on the geographical analogy front, but it was clearly an effective move. It’s not unreasonable to think that the undisturbed remoteness of the studio’s location in some way contributed to how fresh the ten songs on the album sound.
At their core these are direct, uncomplicated, melodic songs designed to uplift and engage. Opening track Ava is a case in point, a power-pop tinged three minutes that showcases the immediacy and bounding self-confidence found on the record. Black Night Light follows in similar style, striking a timeless, widescreen note. There may be some tried and tested musical devices thrown in along the way, like the trail of guitar strands that follow the big opening of The Ballad Of Whatever May Be but these are never not going to be enjoyable. It’s a hit of musical sunshine, all chiming riffs and gently buffeted harmonies, that also shows how no self respecting Americana band can exist without having at least one ‘the ballad of’ named song in their catalogue (one of a few Americana tropes that feature pleasingly throughout).
Weep & Whisper operates in a more idyllic, florally scented realm, coated with soft sheets of pedal steel guitar. As frontman Richard Olson sings “there’s a girl I used to know, she wore her hair long in an endless satin bow” it’s hard not to drift away into a pretty, swoonsome reverie. Radio On continues the lovelorn feel and the hazy Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart features some appealing turns of pace that light up the landscape.
The quality is maintained right to the end with the summery glide of I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore and lower key lament of Red Autumn Leaf and as a whole it represents something of a career best, the sound of a band transcending their influences to create something authentic, varied, original and forward-looking.