The good book mentioned beating swords into ploughshares and Chuck Hawthorne’s debut album, Silverline is a fine example of this. Hawthorne is a time served US Marine joining straight after high school and spending 21 years as a leatherneck. He starting picking guitar when aboard the USS Iwo Jima and was writing songs by the time he served in Iraq. Retired, he was scuffling around when a chance encounter with Ray Bonneville led to the recording of this album with Bonneville in the producer’s chair. The end result is a relatively unadorned slice of down home rootsy picking and singing that’s elevated on two counts. Hawthorne has one of those voices that just fits, half Don Williams, half Guy Clark, superbly supported by the pared back playing, for the most part acoustic guitars and a rhythm section with occasional pedal steel and fiddle. Secondly Hawthorne turns out to be a fine writer in the grand Texas style offering snapshots of hard lives that breathe life into the characters.
He opens with Silver Line, a mellow train song which has Gurf Morlix on pedal steel adding a stately grandeur to Hawthorne’s hymn to the frontier rail lines. Morlix again features on Welding Son of A Gun where Hawthorne salutes the sweat and toil of a man who has sold all his guns and bought himself a welding machine while the thumping The Gospel Hammer has Hawthorne recalling his father’s skill with a hammer and bal peen which defines his life and death. Eliza Gilkyson adds fine harmonies to Dragon Flies, a song that comes across like a Guy Clark rewrite of The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan and she features again on Leaving Amarillo, a dusty portrait of a woman with a chequered past, “A wild desert rainbow lost in her shadow. She’s dated every cowboy that fell to the ground.”
Hawthorne’s fine sketches continue on the slow country waltz of Ovando and the story of an old drinker lost in his thoughts and memories on Ashes and Embers. There’s a darker edge however on the sinister Enemy which features only Hawthorne’s guitar and voice along with some spooky harmonica from Bonneville. Finally, Hawthorne confronts the war in Iraq with the simple folk tale of Post 2 Gate which tells of the murder of a child street vendor caught up in a suicide attack, a scene revisited each night by the soldier narrator in his dreams as he eventually returns home a different man.