Springing from a notion that Sheffield singer/songwriter Richard Hawley
had, this album is an ambition realized -- a tribute of sorts to the talent of Tony Christie
, himself from Sheffield and notable for being part of the last generation of great crooners of the 20th century. That final, rather small group of greats (including Tom Jones
, Engelbert Humperdinck
, Barbra Streisand
, Liza Minelli
, and Shirley Bassey
) shared the fate of having to continue their careers in a culture that had, in general, turned hostile to their art, and their successive discographies indeed tended toward the erratic.
After his first flourish of strong hit singles, Tony Christie
settled on an unremarkable career, which included a steady but rather low-profile level of success -- and hardly any remarkable albums to speak of. Made in Sheffield
finally corrects this dearth, and lets him fulfill his potential, supported by musicians from his hometown and organized by Hawley
, who provides diverse song material and flawless musical accompaniment. Even so, it's not quite what one would expect. The songs by the more currently famous names are actually overshadowed in quality by those of the not-so-famous songwriters on this collection. The funereal "Only Ones Who Know" (written by Alex Turner
of Arctic Monkeys
) feels more like a barrier to be surmounted, coming as it does at the beginning of the album. The light, Latin American touch of second song "Perfect Moon," however, gives a taste of what's to come (although this song is brighter in mood than the other material on this album, it most closely resembles Christie'
s usual style).The slightly grotesque (and long) "Born to Cry" (a song from Pulp
's repertoire), keeps the mood firmly downturned, but then two of Christie'
s self-penned songs -- nice, but not very original -- serve as a kind of corridor into the rather lush and rewarding "inner sanctum" of the album. That corridor opens with the surprise re-interpretation of "Louise" (a hit for the Human League
in the '80s). What was originally a rather horridly arranged synth pop hit, sung with no real emotion at all, turns out to have the potential (as fully realized here) to be a very touching and elegant mini-drama with true emotional depth. Then the less well-known songwriters get their turn and the elegance nevertheless continues with "Danger Is a Woman in Love" (worthy of a James Bond movie theme), "I'll Never Let You Down" (a gentle song of friendship similar in tone to the classic "Love's Been Good to Me"), "How Can I Entertain" (with its accordion-led Parisian flair), and the especially delicate harp string waltz of "Paradise Square." The Hawley
song "Cole's Corner" (the title track of one of his albums and the piece that provided the cornerstone for this project) closes the album proper, but being one of his more mood- than melody-oriented songs, it doesn't quite provide the high point the album deserves. The bonus track edition of Made in Sheffield
, however, adds two more highlights: "Every Word She Said" (which sounds like the kind of dynamic song Christie was famous for in his early years), and "Streets of Steel," an elegant ode to Sheffield itself, going back to the style of medieval troubadours, which rounds out the limited-edition bonus track version perfectly. Made in Sheffield
amounts to a rewarding stroll through an English garden, abounding with ambition and quality. More such works from Tony Christie
would be welcome indeed. Remarkable.