From soft crooner to cool rocker, Richard Hawley has made a successful pivot out of necessity. His natural progression from those rebellious Late Night Final looks to the silver silks of Lady’s Bridge and now to the coiffed crispness of his latest look all leave their impact on the work presented. Further marks the most recent and arguably weakest segment of Hawley and the longstanding session musicians he works with. But his weakest point is still stronger than the highest part of many a musician. Considering these Further recordings delivered a cover of Bob Dylan classic Ballad of a Thin Man, it is somewhat clear to see where Hawley hopes to take himself next.
He tackles rock-and-ready ballads here, but not to the same degree as Standing at the Sky’s Edge, a well-formed explosion of sound. Opening track Off My Mind is no reason to get excited despite the romantic core and scope of the track. Alone picks up the pace with striking and impressionable tenderness, isolation at the core ripped apart and pushed further along. Frustratingly short and empty tracks soon follow though, the wet string sections doing little for Hawley, who loses that sharp focus from Truelove’s Gutter. Striking chamber explosions and twinkling guitar work on My Little Treasure feels hollow. A sad shame and tad ironic since Hollow Meadows was stuffed with raw beauty and emotional range. There are moving reasons behind the songs that are not transferred as successfully as usual from mind to track.
Despite that trickle of unfortunate singles, the album work is solid enough. Further has a delicacy to it that calls back to those early moments of crooning chamber pop. Emilina Says and Is There a Pill? pop with an explosive charm to them when presented live. Here, they are neutered and polished in a studio format. Further never shakes that and never finds the energy it needs to mount these tracks as obviously stronger expressions. An album of moments, but sadly not of songs. Is There a Pill? proves strongest of all. Galley Girl, as the rest of the songs, showcase Hawley still holds a firm voice for his tracks, but the usually personable and lighted charm of his tracks is found in ebbs, not flows. Time Is does some heavy lifting, and most of that joy comes from an incredible it of harmonica work.
Much of the disappointment that spreads across Further is the knowledge that these tracks have been presented by Hawley in a stronger form on previous releases. His shift in tone toward heavy splashings of chamber pop and rock stylings lend themselves to the live presence he carries, but very little for an album. One of his releases had to take the spot as worst in class, and here it is. Certainly not offensively bad or in poor taste, just a collection of very solid tracks that could have come together with much more power than seen here. Deep cut Ballad of a Thin Man is a fine cover but not included on the album. It is worth mentioning, however, especially since Peaky Blinders managed to rob Hawley of the best track to come from the Further recordings. Hopefully, there is something better further down the line.