The British songwriter follows up his 2005 Mercury Prize-nominated Coles Corner with Lady’s Bridge, a sturdy eleven-song effort that settles comfortably into the genres of his childhood without breaking much new ground. Yet the commitment and character on display here elevate Lady’s Bridge well above the conventional.
The budding romance of opener “Valentine” begins with a simple strummed acoustic-guitar accompaniment to Hawley’s sturdy Orbison-esque yearning before exploding into a luminous, sixteen-piece orchestral chorus that swells to a Neil Diamond-inflected conclusion.
The backing band brings a tasteful continuity throughout the album, from the somber string ballads like “Roll River Roll” and the gloaming Tele-twang of boot-stepper “Serious” to the Sun Records doo-wop rockability of “I’m Looking for Someone to Find Me” and the loping strut of “Dark Road,” which pays homage to Johnny Cash and Orbison, both in twang and baritone.
Hawley’s embrace of his forebears cannot completely overcome a sense of musical pastiche that keeps him, thus far, from presenting a fully coherent individual voice. His vocal style draws from a deep well of seminal baroque-pop crooners, summoning Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach and late-period Elvis Presley. What matters, though, is his dedication to the style, approaching without a whiff of irony.
Nevertheless, at times haunting, occasionally tortured, sometimes bereft and continually searching, Hawley has a consistent soulfulness and is one of the few truly charismatic voices in rock today.