Heavenly Recordings HVNLP198
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
H. Hawkline is the pseudonym of Welsh singer-songwriter Huw Evans. In 2010, Evans released his first album as H. Hawkline, A Cup of Salt, and followed it a year later with The Strange Uses of Ox Gall. Both albums were slightly eccentric and DIY in feel and showed a wide range of songwriting interests and instrumental skills. Evans’s guitar playing had hints of country blues and Welsh folk music, and his songwriting embraced everything from ’60s folk rock to psychedelia.
In 2013, Evans began appearing on singer Cate Le Bon’s recordings and played in her touring band. Le Bon produced the next two H. Hawkline albums, In the Pink of Condition (2015) and I Romanticize (2017). Both demonstrated a firm grasp of various pop-music styles, and an affection for such post-punk bands as Talking Heads and Television. Evans’s own songwriting voice was strong enough to build on the examples set by those bands without merely copying them.
Le Bon is in the producer’s chair again for the first H. Hawkline album in five years, Milk for Flowers. Evans’s mother died in 2018, and the songs on the album carry themes of grief and memorial. It opens with the piano-based title song, and Evans’s voice sounds more natural and at ease than on his earlier recordings. The song’s happy, upbeat melody contrasts with the surreal sadness of the lyrics, especially in a brief interlude where Evans sings: “And I miss you so much.” Guitars, keys, and other instruments flow in and out of the arrangement to create a rich and involving background for Evans’s voice.
Crunchy guitars play against the piano chords on the hard-rocking “Plastic Man,” which has an air of 1970s glam rock, especially when Euan Hinshelwood enters to play a few saxophone lines that bring Roxy Music to mind. The finely layered instrumental parts include some guitars that nod in the direction of middle-period Beatles and some cabaret-style piano. The result could have been cluttered and busy, but Evans and Le Bon have skillfully brought together the song’s disparate styles.
The electronic harpsicord on “Suppression Street” reaches into the past, but it’s paired with a modern synth line that brings the song up to date. The album’s themes of sorrow and loss come into focus when Evans sings, “Grief is an encounter when I speak it / It carries like a shadow on the carpet.” Le Bon’s harmony vocals in the chorus underscore the melancholy tone of the lyrics. Evans’s bass provides a firm grounding for the tune, and Tim Presley’s softly strummed guitar gives the arrangement harmonic fullness.
Milk for Flowers is remarkably varied in style. “Empty Room” contains a hint of country-and-western music, with Harry Bohay’s mournful pedal steel and Paul Jones’s honky-tonk piano helping create the right mood for the song’s elegiac message. Evans’s voice eases into falsetto at points, and the effect is emotionally stirring and unforced. The airiness of the arrangement, set off nicely by Evans’s acoustic guitar, gives the song an undercurrent of spiritual longing. In its final section, clarinet, keyboards, and other instruments lift the spirit of “Empty Room” and bring it to a place of acceptance.
“Athens at Night” successfully recreates ’80s synth pop without feeling dated and the suspended fourth chords on “Milk for Flowers” suggest Evans owns a few Todd Rundgren albums. “Denver” carries a hint of Roxy Music in its romanticism and drama, and “Like You Do” has the subdued emotional intensity of some of the songs on John Lennon’s first solo album. Evans doesn’t linger on his influences—his songs stand solidly on their own. His stylistic reach is so broad that Milk for Flowers is delightfully hard to categorize.
Le Bon and Evans have filled the songs on Milk for Flowers with instrumental details, some of which are immediately apparent, while others bubble up on return listens. As a result, the album is sonically rewarding. It’s easy to follow instruments, even on tracks that are packed with detail. My copy of the LP was flat and quiet, packaged in a heavyweight cardboard cover with tipped-on artwork.
While the other four H. Hawkline albums were rewarding in their way, Milk for Flowers is a significant step forward for Evans. He has crafted an album of deeply felt, well-crafted pop that is brainy but melodically daring and appealing. I hope he continues in this direction.
. . . Joseph Taylor