Richard Hawley hails from Sheffield, England, which the title of his new Standing at the Sky’s Edge album refers to. Although it sounds quite poetic, evidently the area of Sheffield known as Sky’s Edge is somewhat menacing. While I would not go so far as to call Standing at the Sky’s Edge “menacing,” there are definitely moments of danger among the nine tracks contained within.
This element is not immediately apparent however. Like all great artists, Hawley takes us on a journey. The opening track “She Brings the Sunlight” begins with something of an Indian feel. But this is no trip to Bollywood. The guitars soon break the song wide open, and we are in for a fascinating ride. Although Hawley has worked in many different musical styles, one thing that has always stood out is his brilliant guitar playing.
The title track begins with a nod to someone who I am sure Hawley respects a great deal, Jim Morrison. The spoken-word intro has a spooky similarity to that of Morrison on “The End.” Hawley has never one to be pigeonholed however, and we are soon caught up in a swirling mass of haunted blues. This is punctuated by some extraordinary, nearly tribal drumming, with plenty of guitar as well.
While Hawley’s guitar dominates much of Standing at the Sky’s Edge, the atmospherics of his earlier works are also present. The swirling vortex at the heart of “The Wood Collier’s Grave,” “Time Will Bring You Winter,” and “Leave Your Body Behind You” may well leave the listener gasping for breath. Richard Hawley first found success in the Britpop band Longpigs and spent time as a member of Pulp in the early 2000s. For this listener, the most “radio-friendly” track on Standing at the Sky’s Edge is the brilliant “Seek It,” although time will tell if it becomes a hit.
The album closes with the stunning “Before.” The song opens as something of a ballad, and over the course of six minutes and 13 seconds manages to incorporate everything that makes the music of Richard Hawley so memorable into a single, amazing piece. “Before” closes out with a massive dose of anthemic guitars, providing an unforgettable finish to a most remarkable recording.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge was released in England in May, where it debuted at number three. Mute is releasing it in the U.S. on August 28, and for those who have not already bought it as an import, by all means get it now. Of his seven solo releases, this may well be his finest yet.