Songwriters have a tendency to be reflective, don’t ya know. Austin’s Chuck Hawthorne takes that inclination to an extreme on his second album, Fire Out of Stone.
Co-produced by Walt Wilkins (“Trains I Missed,” “Carry On,” and the Mystiqueros) and Ron Flynt (20/20, “Let Her Dance,” and Jumping Dog Studio,) this straight-forward, artful, and unencumbered set of music—poetic, narrative, romantic, and distant—accomplishes levels of ‘spoken-word’ troubadour-balladry seldom encountered since “The Pirates of Stone County Road,” Cannons in the Rain, and “Let the Big Horse Run.”
John Stewart references are apt (“Arrowhead & Porcupine Claw,” “New Lost Generation,” and “Worthy of the Sea” especially) as Hawthorne’s propensity toward cinematic broad-strokes germinating vivid detail is acute.
Hawthorne’s songs are populated by those experiencing change and crisis, life-altering transitions and impactful decisions: Indian riders and rodeo fools, those lost in addiction, and the ones who hear the wind in the wires.
Performance intimacy draws us closer, every elongated syllable and lyrical phrase strengthening the artist-listener relationship. “Broken Good” captures it: “Shoot their songs like Robin Hood, straight through your heart and broken good.”
There’s a bit of steel guitar (Geoff Queen), a touch of harmonica (Ray Bonneville), fiddle (Marian Brackney), and drums (Ray Rodriguez) to provide embellishment, but Hawthorne’s and Flynt’s guitars are most apparent. Sparse, but hardly empty.
He closes with a Richard J. Dobson song, “I Will Fight No More Forever.” In the words of Guy Clark, Jesus Christ.
I’ve been listening for five weeks. Fire Out of Stone gets better each time.