By Cody Mello-Klein
Summer 2012 is nearing its end, and as we all look back at those good times spent with friends and family during the steamy New England summer, we cannot help but reflect and wonder where it all went. The seventh studio album from British guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Hawley aids in the transition from summer to autumn, taking the listener on a wistful journey to the sky’s edge and back with some interesting echo-laden rock songs.
Now while the lyrics do not directly tie into the transition of seasons, transitions are nonetheless a focus on this album. From soft acoustics to spacious echoes, from Middle Eastern droning to straightforward rock and roll, Standing At The Sky’s Edge transitions from one idea to the next seamlessly and with the use of interesting effects. Album opener “She Brings the Sunlight” begins with aforementioned Middle Eastern droning with tinkling guitar echoing in the background before transforming into a Beatles-esque rocker. With his vocals hidden under an effect that produces a loud-speaker effect, Hawley creates a unique feeling on this track, as though a Muslim prayer is being sung to you from the top of a mosque. Alongside this is Hawley’s guitar sound, which, especially on this song, has such a unique sound. The combination of wah, echo, and layered guitars makes the solo on this song one of the most memorable of the year for me.
Following this fantastic opener, Hawley uses the rest of the album to journey from location to location, using the songs as canvases on which to paint these musical landscapes. The title track takes the listener through the countryside of England and Ireland with its folksy acoustic guitars and vocal delivery and then into the heart of the African jungle with an unexpected rhythmic, percussive groove in the middle. And it’s really this willingness to explore places, moods, and feelings that makes this record stand out. As we, the listeners, are taken on these journeys, we cannot help but remember our own journeys and explorations. We look back at the summer and remember the good times and the bad times, where we’ve been and then, instinctually, where we are going next.
Variety is evident, and needed, on an album like this and Hawley succeeds in providing a good balance of soft-rockers (“Seek It”), atmospheric musical landscapes (“Time Will Bring You Winter”), straightforward rockers (“Down In the Woods”) and folksy songs (the aforementioned title track). Each song, with the exception of one or two unnecessary songs, stands on its own as a unique piece of music, which is something to be proud of considering this album could have easily just blended together in an echoing mess.
In terms of production, Hawley is spot on with every instrument standing out when it needs to and the vocals and guitars being given unique effects that give songs genuine character. However, the vocal effects do tend to muddle the lyrics at times. In addition, and this is more a performance factor than a production one, Hawley’s vocal delivery does at times lack a certain passion that could have made this album an excellent one, not just a good one.
In the end, Hawley’s latest effort is a welcome late-summer surprise, providing the listener with a chance to reflect on the experiences had over the course of the summer. With an approach that uses songs as tools to take the audience on a journey, not merely as a means of detailing lost love or other personal details (although that is present here), Hawley creates a unique sounding and quite comprehensive album. From the vocal effects to the interesting guitar sounds, even to the echoing squeels that are constantly in the background that create a wind-like effect, this album tosses out ideas that keep every song fresh and memorable like those summer memories that will last a lifetime.