Richard Hawley – In This City They Call You Love

An inspired return that ranks among his best work...

In a forthcoming interview with CLASH, Richard Hawley describes this, his tenth solo effort, as “odd because it doesn’t have a tempo-related flow”. It’s the right of the artist to critique his own work in such a way but, as is typical of the Sheffield songsmith, he does both himself and the work a disservice. Indeed, the very unpredictability of this fine effort is its strength.

The dichotomy lies in the album’s inspiration: once again, the Steel City informs his writing process. For every new slice of gentrification in any UK city, the people and outlook remain stoic. As such, for every ‘Have Love’, a boisterous, simple but effective R&B shuffle with splintered, almost church-bell guitar and an earnest-yet-required message, there’s a ‘Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow’. Surely a result of his performance with John Grant at last year’s Patsy Cline tribute, it’s a sweetly sad country ballad which feels out of its time. 

The gunslinging ‘Two For His Heels’ is grizzly and saturnine, all twanging guitar and echoing drumsticks, but the title comes from a term in the game Cribbage, overheard by Hawley in the working men’s club next to his house. 

‘Heavy Rain’ is a lament for absent friends, sad but the type of sadness that’s happy for deep people, while ‘People’ is sparse and intimate, the gentle pulse throughout barely existent as our hero pays tribute to the city built on steel and love. In contrast, the boisterous ‘Deep Space’ explodes out of the speakers, beginning like pre-Elvis rock’n’roll before thundering into something larger, as Hawley takes billionaires to task in a bid to escape the madness. Awe-inspiring stuff. 

Like the city which is inspired it, ‘In This City They Call You Love’ bristles with ideas. ‘When The Lights Go Out’ has a samba vibe, (even if the lyrics convey something else), while the glistening ‘Prism In Jeans’ evokes the likes of The Shadows. A sweet, dainty thing with guitars like harps, it’s one of the catchiest things he’s ever done.  

It’s not a one-man show; ‘I’ll Never Get Over You’ showcases the vocals of his longtime bandmates Collin Elliot, Shez Sheridan and Dean Beresford, whose harmonies add depth to a timeless ballad, while ‘Do I Really Need To Know’ is lovelorn Philadelphia soul. 

But regardless of the inspiration, ‘In This City They Call You Love’ is an album of universal themes and tones, and one of Richard Hawley’s finest. 

8/10

Words: Richard Bowes

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