Dan Lethbridge – Oh Hawke (2012 LP)

Oh Hawke, Melbourne singer-songwriter Dan Lethbridge’s second album, is a sparse, sophisticated collection of folk and folk-country ruminations on life and love.

Backed by his capable band, The Campaigners, and featuring contributions from Shane O’Mara (who also mixed the album), Josh Owen and Tracy McNeil, the musicianship on display here is of a very high quality. The personalities of the compositions themselves are largely reflective and subdued, and so the subtle touches that each of the players provide are exceptionally tasteful, and help to keep the album’s pace rolling along, without ever moving the spotlight off Lethbridge himself.

The basic instrumentation of drums, bass, keys and guitars intertwine effortlessly, the arrangement never straying far from the basis of the live band. On “Go Home”, the album’s acoustic closer, a stack of backing vocals drenched in reverb help add a beautifully thick texture to the song’s simple melodic line, while elsewhere the piano trills of Damon Smith, with whom Lethbridge also performs in The Quality Lightweights, compliment the slide guitar and blues licks of guitarists Lethbridge, O’Mara and Danny Stain.

This uncluttered and fairly natural sound was clearly a conscious decision, as the press release accompanying the disc describes it as aiming to be a ‘candid’ and ‘authentic’ record, made on a sixteen-track recorder in a home studio (on Hawke Street, as the title alludes to).

One would suspect that stripped back even further, these songs would make a pleasant enough acoustic and voice record, but the gentle cohesion of the different instruments used help to add an extra dimension to the material, without distracting from the songs themselves.

The one exception to this is the down-and-out tale of “Hard to Fight”, during which McNeil does steal the show, the strength and beauty of her voice being perfectly suited to the song’s bitter lament ‘any day now you’ll take back your loving, and to your surprise, it feels alright’. It is a testament to how well she manages to inhabit another writer’s song that as a listener you just don’t want her part to stop.

Influences of the 1960’s British folk revival are evident, particularly in Lethbridge’s singing, and the presence of American influences, specifically country and blues, help to balance out the sincerity of his straight delivery, a by-product of which is an at times unusual blend of an English/American/Australian accent.

The Queensland born songwriter’s music has a gentle maturity to it, and lyrically shows a sort of optimistic melancholy, and even humour. The droll irony of naming the opening track “Saturday Night Fever” is made all the better by not even acknowledging it as a pop culture reference, as with all sincerity he rhymes that title with ‘him wanting to leave her’.

Oh Hawke is an enjoyable record that deserves, and benefits from, repeated listening, as there is quite a lot to enjoy here. This album comes recommended.

Originally published on The AU Review on 25/04/2012. View original article.

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