Friday, February 01, 2008

So It's Just My Opinion....

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got Hawksley Workman's new CD "Between the Beautifuls" in the mail a few days back. Today, I got a *signed* (I'm such a groupie) copy of Joe Jackson's new CD, "Rain". I'm listening to Rain as I type this, so maybe by the end of the post I will have something to say on it. (What I will say is that strictly speaking it is probably my brother's copy, as it came in the same box as the vinyl "Rain" I ordered on his behalf. BUT - I believe it is my right to test the merchandise, as I have to pay the interest charges on my credit card... but enough of that. Back to Hawksley.)

I have been a huge Hawksley fan for ages. The first time I went to see him, it was with my friend A. in Toronto, at the Phoenix, probably the same year as this video post (2000), or maybe a year earlier. He was the darling of Toronto at the time, and had been voted "best live act" in the local culture rag. And that is why I got tickets. I didn't know his music well - I had heard one track - and neither did A. I think this was our first Phoenix concert and we quickly established our near the front floor position - something that we would have many elbow-battles with space hogging strangers with during concerts to come - but back to the gig... it was amazing. Hawksley in his red fur was a true rock star. He kicked, hollered, pouted, sang with cabaret camp at times, and was completely entrancing.

Over the next few years I saw him a number of times. It was never the same show, and he was always at minimum good (Commodore show last year), at best astounding (Van East, The Music Hall). I have all the albums, and with the possible exception of Lover/Fighter, which was an obvious attempt at commercial success, I've found them all unique, interesting, cool stuff. Even Lover/Fighter has some really nice moments.

SO - that brings us to this new album. I gave it a full listen. First impression was that it was...pleasant. Nothing really struck me. I've now listened a few more times, and I just have the sense that this really isn't the album it could be. What makes Hawksley engaging is the cool combination of his very powerful, flexible voice and his slightly quirky (and lyrically very strong) songwriting. There are certainly a number tracks I like, that that inner quirk and soaring voice still shine, but there are a couple that are SO conventional in form and production that it really doesn't feel right. And I have to admit, even the more characteristically Hawksley moment feel like I've heard them before (not that I really mind that - I liked them the first time around...but...) I know through a friend that over the last year Hawksley has had some issues with recording and the record company, and ended up tossing a lot of material out as well. I just wonder if the record company didn't get too big a finger in the production pie on this one. I have heard Hawksley say that he has always thought his records were mainstream, and this, like Lover/Fighter, seems to be another attempt in that direction. But the truth is what makes Hawksley compelling is exactly what separates him from the mainstream. Hopefully whoever is having issues with that fact will come to terms with it.

In the meantime, I will play the tracks on the album that I do like (and there are quite a few), and look forward to his next live show in March. Live Hawksley never disappoints, particularly in a quiet, seated venue like St Andrews.

And as for Joe - I'll write more on Rain another time.

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