You could waste an awful lot of time trying to pigeonhole the debut album by Hamish James Hawk. But what would be the point? Because you won’t really find a pigeon that fits.
In the year of Scottish Independence it’s a delight to hear a new, confident, Scottish voice emerge that really stops you in your tracks.
And it’s not often that a new voice appears that makes you think “that’s proper different.” Paolo did it when he emerged. Willy Mason too I guess. James Yorkston. And King Creosote of course.
Now you can add to that list, Hamish James Hawk.
Aside from Willy Mason, in the esteemed list above, the common thread is an authentic Scots twang. Not that this feels, to me, like a record obsessed by Scottish life. Yet clearly it draws much of its lyrical inspiration from this mighty land and it’s probably no coincidence that Hawk has recently been hanging about with the King himself, Kenny Anderson.
His choice of album title surely alludes to great aspirations. Aznavour (the French Sinatra) crooned his way to fame and fortune but it’s a slightly odd choice of title because I’d place him nearer to another great crooner, of sorts, Leonard Coen, stylistically.
‘Slow, simple, just the right amount of blue’ says Hawk’s Soundcloud profile and that’s just about right. The album never tries too hard. Never over-elaborates, but at the same time, never loses momentum. It’s blue in places, but it ain’t the Blues.
The 10 tracks are dominated by acoustic guitar and vocal (the odd bodran creeps in) with very occasional multi tracking and tambourine. But essentially this is true singer songwriter country – with nowhere to hide.
The vocals have to be spot on throughout, and they are, in their rich baritone, treading into second tenor territory from time to time..
Opener Ramshackle intones in a slightly syncopated rhythm (subconsciously Camberwick Green inspired perhaps?) “After 100 years of this you’ll be standing on your last legs, and when you finally open your eyes, you might be dead (aside: where were we?)”
“You have a heart with two left feet and a head full of home brew.”
After the whistled intro to John Cooper Clarke he pulls a peach out of his lyrical hat “My friend went into hospital with a glass lung and a broken heart.”
It all goes a little bit crazy on Oh! Bernard, a song about a party pseudo, a professor, where Hawk lets rip with a full backing ensemble. “Some say you are boring, and others agree. But no one can rival your unbridled love for Don Quixote.” Magic.
His style is dryly witty, observational storytelling and it’s clear the lyrics have been crafted and wrung out over many a draft to reach taut and engaging outcomes.
“My singing partner moved to Norway. That’s fine by me.” Frankly, that’s his singing partner’s loss, not his.
Here he is in full flow singing Unlucky, unlikely, the album’s closer.
All in all, a fantastic and sensitively produced debut that delivers many excellent moments and augurs well for a succesful carrier in the heartland of Scottish folk.
Webpage goes live soon http://www.hjhmusic.com