Truelove’s Gutter

“Anyone here like rockabilly?” It was December 2007, and Richard Hawley was asking his audience at Los Angeles’ Troubadour if they were ready for an upbeat number from his then-latest album, Lady’s Bridge. His follow-up, the dream-like Truelove’s Gutter, seems to answers the question with a soft-spoken “No.” On Bridge and 2005’s Mercury Prize-nominated Cole’s Corner the Sheffield, England native blended vintage pop, rock and even jazz influences — Orbison, Morrisey, Sinatra – to magnificent effect, but with “Gutter,” the songwriter heads down a more understated path. Unlike those past albums, which rotated between bluesy, sock-hop rockers and tender, Wee Small Hours of the Morning-style ballads, Gutter goes entirely evocative. “Open Up Your Door” and “For Your Lover, Give Some Time” are the most successful examples of his freshly orchestrated sound, with “Door” begging a lover to take him in over a bed of twinkling synthesizers and drifting lead guitars and “For Your Lover” turning to violins and a delicately plucked acoustic guitar to soundtrack a mystery-tinged examination of the sacrifices of fidelity. “I will give up these cigarettes,” Hawley promises in the latter track, and his baritone — at once comfortingly wise and dashingly man-of-the-world — has never sounded better. Despite these highlights, though, the conceptual thrust of, say, Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours or September of My Years never quite emerges here, andTruelove ‘s soft-focus nuance — most apparent in a pair of songs that stretch needlessly toward the 10-minute mark — comes at the expense of some of the crowd-pleasing musician’s usual verve. Still, Hawley has crafted a gorgeous addition to his catalog, a record best heard in the attendance of a crackling fireplace and a bottle of wine. One just hopes his fans will remind him when he comes to town that we do, yes, like a little rockabilly.