Richard Hawley 'Truelove's Gutter'

Richard Hawley 'Truelove's Gutter'

Richard Hawley has always shown a penchant for writing deeply evocative and emotional songs about places, people, and situations. His first couple of recordings, especially 'Lowedges', reflected his obsession with lushly orchestrated pop songs and a production style that extended a song far beyond its margins and into the listener's world with a near visual sensibility.

On 'Truelove's Gutter', Hawley has dug the well much deeper and brought forth a spring of new ideas in his singing, writing, and production, but paradoxically, has done so with less.

The album is more sparse than anything he's released. Its eight songs have a decidedly late-night feel. The grand sweeping orchestral strings of his last two albums have been replaced by a chamber section and odd instrumentation that add real intimacy to the proceedings.

These songs reflect his own experiences, or the trials and tribulations of friends. His gorgeous melodies shine through brighter in songs that are nakedly tender and unflinching yet are musically more sophisticated, adding to their depth of field.

"Open Up Your Door" (featured here) would be just a pop song were it not for lyrical concerns underscored by the only orchestral arrangement on the set: it's a plea for reconciliation by a husband who confesses and owns his shortcomings, while professing his all-consuming love for his spouse in the wake of a dispute as strings swell and punctuate them in the bridge.

The melody is infectious, and Hawley's soaring baritone evokes the power of Roy Orbison's tenor.

'Truelove's Gutter' is a singular moment in Hawley's catalog that displays the maturity of all his gifts. It is quietly passionate, graceful, elegant, utterly moving, and unequivocally beautiful in its honesty and sophistication. He's realized an ambition here that is artful and singular.

Peter Gabriel 'Scratch My Back'

Peter Gabriel 'Scratch My Back'

Considering the slow trickle of completed albums he has released since becoming a superstar in 1986 -- just two albums of songs with vocals, paired with two albums of soundtracks and two live records -- deliberate is expected from Peter Gabriel, so the slow, hushed crawl of Scratch My Back is no shock.

Designed as the first half of a two-part project where Gabriel would cover 12 different artists who would then return the favour by recording their own versions of Gabriel’s compositions -- the counterpart album naturally bearing the title I’ll Scratch Yours -- Scratch My Back divides neatly between six songs from his peers (Bowie, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Lou Reed, David Byrne) and six songs from younger artists (Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Stephin Merritt, Bon Iver, Elbow, Regina Spektor).

Gabriel doesn’t dodge familiar tunes, choosing to sing “Heroes” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” but he twists each tune to his own needs, arranging everything with nothing more than piano and strings, a change that’s almost jarring on Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” yet it stays true to the undercurrent of melancholy in the melody.

Immediate it may not be but fascinating it is, and after hearing Gabriel turn all 12 of these songs into something unmistakably his own, the appetite is surely whetted for its companion piece.

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