Truelove’s Gutter is another timeless installment in Richard Hawley’s gorgeous paean to American country and western, strange instruments, and obscure parts of his home city of Sheffield, England. His sixth full-length is rich and lush, teeming with layers of shimmering guitars, offbeat instruments like the crystal baschet and waterphone, and, of course, his velvet croon. It never ceases to amaze me that music that sounds so distinctly indebted to Hank Williams or Johnny Cash comes out of a rather bland city in the middle of England. Much like the Stones and Zeppelin before him, Hawley has taken American sounds, harnessed them, put his own touch on them, and produced something just as amazing as its roots.
Hawley even manages to go a bit Serge Gainsbourg on us this time with the goofy, sweet, and wry lyric wit in “For Your Lover Give Some Time.” This song encapsulates the bittersweetness of a long-term relationship, the ups and downs. He speaks of buying his lover a birthday gift that will take her breath away, but then admits he nearly left it on the train. He may give up smokes and go to the bar less, but well, he may not. But he does want to get her name in a rose tattooed across his chest, and honestly, if my lover did that I’d melt too. Sure, it may sound a bit corny, but the sentiment is what counts.
“Soldier On” might be the crowning glory of the record. The song builds into a huge and overblown majestic ending; it rocks and rolls, pitching between waves in storm like a little sailboat lost. It’s huge and thunderous and utterly heartbreaking. “Ashes on the Fire” is another sweeping moment on this record, only with a country-and-western twang. It’s another heartbreaker; he’s channeled Hank Williams and somehow married it to a doo-wop guitar sound that harks back to the Ventures or Santo & Johnny. He sings in a perfect tone to convey just how gutted a person can feel to be rejected, especially in such a visible and ultimately final way. A burnt love letter can be a cruel, cruel thing, indeed.
With a title like Truelove’s Gutter, it’s a given that we’re in for emotional roller coaster ride. Though this is a weird back alley in historic Sheffield, I can’t help but picture a pulpy and waterlogged paper heart or old Valentine’s Day card rumpled and faded in a gutter. The album is a crumbling beauty.