Richard Hawley has upped his game considerably on his first album for Parlophone, leaving behind his urbane, rockabilly-tinged retro-nuevo style for a full-blooded immersion in ringing psychedelic rock. It's totally unexpected, and completely winning.
"She Brings the Sunlight" sets the tone, with slow, dense layers of fuzz guitars, electric sitar and Eastern-flavoured strings swirling modally around a keyboard monotone motif, as Hawley pays tribute to his beloved in his warm baritone. Replete with snarling guitar solos, it's powerfully redolent of the acid-fired heyday of Hendrix and The Beatles, while the melodic affinity with "She Moves Through the Fair" anchors the song within the Anglo-Irish folk tradition. It's as powerful an opener as you'll hear all year, establishing a tone and direction on which the subsequent songs build.
Vibrato organ drones set a mood of mournful fatalism in the title track, on which the extremes to which the poor and desperate are driven are related with calm anger. The galloping "Down in the Woods" ups the tempo, though the message – getting away from the glare of technology and finding oneself amidst nature – extends a bucolic theme.
Elsewhere, the dreamlike "Seek It" and misty "Don't Stare At the Sun" offer subtly beautiful affirmations of affection, the former tenderly rendered, the latter protective and rooted, before "Leave Your Body Behind You" restores the opening psychedelic surge with a swirling arrangement streaked with chiming guitar lines. "Before" closes the album with another poignant love song, this one featuring tendrils of ebow slide guitar from Hawley's neighbour, virtuoso folk guitarist Martin Simpson. It's as steadfast a sentiment as you could wish for, a confirmation of devotion surmounting everything: "It won't be me who sets you free/ It won't be me who closes the door on before."
Download: She Brings the Sunlight; Standing At the Sky's Edge; Don't Stare At the Sun; Leave Your Body Behind You; Before