Lady's Bridge

It isn’t surprising that Richard Hawley, former member of the Britpop bands The Longpigs and Pulp, would be a contributor to Nancy Sinatra’s 2004 release and accompany her on her 2005 European tour. There is something about Hawley’s music that makes it feel old-fashioned or, maybe more properly, timeless. Hawley writes and records melodramatic songs that straddle the fine line between elegant, vintage pop and country standards and high camp, leading some critics to refer to him as “the Elvis of the North.”

North, in this case, would be Sheffield, England, where Hawley grew up and continues to live and raise his family. So dedicated is he to his hometown that he’s immortalized its landmarks in his album titles. 2005’s Cole’s Corner paid tribute to a well-known lovers rendezvous destination within the city limits. His latest release, Lady’s Bridge, references Sheffield’s oldest bridge which connects the poor and rich sides of town. And it is here that this fiercely loyal son records songs that reflect the lives of the city’s denizens.

Opening with “Valentine” Hawley draws you in slowly with a strumming guitar and his rich, warm crooning vocals. A minute and a half into the song the strings rise and reach crescendo peak just as the heartache hits the boiling point in this tale of dying love. Just when you think you’re about to launch into an album of Vikki Carr inspired ballads Hawley follows up with the ghostly “Roll River Roll,” a tribute to the lost souls of the great Sheffield flood. By the third track Hawley changes pace with the rockabilly influenced “Serious.” Out comes the slapping bass, jangling guitar and the ooh’s and aah’s of backing vocals. At this point it becomes obvious that Hawley is balancing the styles that have become trademarks of his past releases – the great romantic pop anthems and the country-infused rocker. The first single from the album, “Tonight the Streets Are Ours”, is a throw-back to the big pop numbers that dominated British pop in the mid 1960s - think Petula Clark.

Hawley offers another rockabilly number with “I’m Looking for Someone To Find Me” but most of these songs are lush ballads that meander through romantic territory. Romantic is almost an understatement when it comes to Hawley’s lush arrangements and evocative lyrics. Whether expressing commitment to a lover, struggling with wanderlust created by the pull of the sea (“The Sea’s Call”) or singing the praises of domestic bliss (“Our Darkness”), Hawley proves to be an adept cartographer of the heart. Lady’s Bridge nicely compliments an intimate evening at home.

Rosemary Welsch, WYEP Afternoon Mix host