Today is Richard Hawley’s birthday. He first came to prominence with the band the Longpigs, who had a couple British hits in the 1990s. After they fell apart, he did sessions, including playing with Pulp, finally striking out on his own in the early aughts. His second album Lowedges got him some attention with his crooning voice (with a hint of Scott Walker) and lush, romantic songs. Further albums used titles based on places in his native Sheffield as he further perfected his classic sound. And each one climbed higher on the British charts. With his last two albums he began experimented with longer songs, and on last year’s Standing On The Sky’s Edge, he added some psychedelic sounds and wound up with a #3 UK album. Hawley also got to fulfill a lifelong dream by producing Duane Eddy. He is one of the most consistent artists of the past 10 years. In Richard’s honor, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Neko Case – Stinging Velvet (Blacklisted): A driving number from Neko’s third album, which at times, I think might be her favorite. It’s certainly the one where her sound crystalized, and it wasn’t just country and folk, but some sort of floaty mix of so many things, all surrounding her amazing voice. This song sounds like nobody else like Neko, but you can say that about so much of her work.
The Undertones – Rock ‘n’ Roll (Radio Sessions 1978-1982): This technically “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part 1", a cover of the Gary Glitter tune we know from basketball arenas and other sporting events. What differentiates Part 1 from Part 2? Part 1 has lyrics. I still find it weird that the instrumental version is what became popular. The lyrics are okay and it’s fun to hear Feargal Sharkey sing them.
Echo & The Bunnymen – Stars Are Stars (Crocodiles): The deep bass guitar and jangling guitars that still stab a bit are such a great backing for the soaring, dramatic singing of a you Ian McCulloch. These guys were pretty much great from the beginning.
Corin Ashley – Second Hand Halo (New Lion Terraces): This is one of the best pop albums of the year, as Ashley really taps into some great ‘60s and ‘70s pop sounds that fans of Emmit Rhodes and Harry Nilsson and Badfinger would dig. This is definitely a bit more in the Badfinger/George Harrision circa 1966 bag. Cool tune.
Kraftwerk – Europe Endless (Trans-Europe Express): The opening track from the first of their fully classic albums, the grandeur of early Kraftwerk music meets danceable rhythms with simple melodies creating a new brand of art pop that was honed to maximum influence later on.
John Prine – Illegal Smile (John Prine): One of Prine’s first classic tune. His friendly voice and the details of his lyrics and observations, with a healthy dose of wit made him stand out in the folk rock scene of the early ‘70s. And a clever tune about getting stoned helped too.
The National – Conversation 16 (High Violet): Perhaps The National will one day record a better album, but it sure seems that High Violet summed up their sound. The way the swirl of guitars and precise rhythm surrounds the vocals and the song build in just the right fashion. Great stuff.
The Bleeding All Stars – Ain’t It Nice (Stroke: Songs For Chris Knox): This benefit/tribute album benefits from the artists pretty much sticking with Chris Knox’s arrangements. His songs have such a specific personality, and it’s cool to hear other artists layer their sound on top of his. It rarely doesn’t work and this certainly sounds good.
Rainbow – All Night Long (Down to Earth): When Graham Bonnet took over on lead vocals, Rainbow went in a hookier direction. This a full throated cock rock tune with only the melodic bridge belying the necessary machismo. And the chorus is like a more debonair KISS.
Nines – Jules Maxi (Wonderworld of Colourful): This Canadian act produced some really cool low fi pop, sometimes with psychedelic overtones. This goes beyond that, with heavy, grinding guitars. Not typical of the band, but this is very well done.