The first ten: 6, Richard Hawley, Coles Corner

Sheffield has thrown up its own Fred Neil. Sean O'Hagan leads the cheers

Coles Corner

Scott Walker, the great existential balladeer, and a man not given to overstatement, rates Richard Hawley's voice as 'up there with the all-time greats' .

He has been compared with every one from Roy Orbison to late-period Presley. It is not hard to hear why Hawley elicits such extravagant praise, though his voice is a thing of soothing, rather than melodramatic, power, and his songs are suffused with an unhurried, understated beauty.

In my book, Hawley harks back to Sixties' urban boho-balladeers like Fred Neil of 'Everybody's Talkin' fame, and Bob Lind , who wrote the Dylanish 'Elusive Butterfly'. American singers who fused folk and blues to create a kind of urban melancholia in tune with the fading of postwar positivism.

Hawley's home turf is Sheffeld, though, and the best songs on his third solo set evoke the universal through the particular. The title track, a homage to a long-gone, local meeting place, sets the tone for an album that wears its wistfulness proudly on its sleeve. 'The Ocean' is epic in its sweep, the closest he comes to full-blown Walkerian drama, while 'Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet' reworks the traditional ' Kingsport Town' as an ode to paternal love. Here and there, he sounds like a contented Morrissey, and, on the instrumental 'Last Orders', like John Martyn at his most spacious and spaced-out.

Throughout Hawley walks a singular and self-assured line in almost easy listening, a balm in these brash and vulgar pop times. One for the wee mall hours, then, and altogether more powerful for that.

Burn it: 'The Ocean'; 'Last Orders'

The GuardianTramp

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