This is a lovely record, one worth listening to every time it rains, as I'm doing now, here in old LA. The vocals are warm, the songs classically structured, and despite other reviews, this is NOT over produced. Yes: There are understated, very understated, strings on a few cuts--a FEW. Some reverb touches appear here and there. But that constitutes over production? In what parallel universe, what Bizzaro World? And the nonsense about this being a Country record is laughable. Which country, exactly, are we talking about? There's exactly one song that might fit that genre. And it is classic and beautiful. Sure, there are some songs that derive from the precursors to country, the old folk song styles, which were themselves derived from Celtic ballads. But "Country?" Not to offend anyone, but that just isn''t accurate.
I would say the vocal and songwriting analogy would be closer to Nick Lowe's latest work, rather than Cohen or Cash. Cash had more of an edge to his tone; Cohen doesn't have Hawley's sense of pitch, though he has a whole lot of lyrics. This is more Spartan, like Nick's "Dig My Mood," though melodically it also closes in at times on Orbison, and there is an echo of Roy in the phrasing. I might offer the caveat that the lyrics are not the kind of wordplay that makes Nick Lowe a genius, nor the vocal passion that trademarks Roy Orbison, but Nick and Roy belongs to a different pantheon entirely. What Hawley is doing here is turning cliches around and upside down, perfectly respectable in my book, and singing them with the kind of integrity that honors the emotions behind the otherwise stock imagery.
I grow weary of cricics who have never played music, never taken a music course, critics whose sole credential is that they passed Freshman English with a B, damning great records like this one just to see their own prose in print. If you like classic popular song forms, delivered with grace, skill, dignity and a sincerity that cannot be faked, then this is for you. I, for one, would love to shake the hand of the man who could make a record like this in these times of abject vapidity.