After the recent stir caused by Doug Seeger’s debut album, recorded in his later years, comes this debut album from former military man Chuck Hawthorne which treads a similar path. Silver Line should appeal to Don Williams’ fans, as well as admirers of some of the album’s participants amongst others, if they like their tales a little more on the darker side of life. It was produced by Ray Bonneville, a recognised recording artist in his own right, after the two had a chance meeting in airport lounge. It has a selection of some of Austin’s finest who help to realise these mostly self-written songs. Guests include Gurf Morlix, Rick Richards, Gene Elders, Eliza Gilkyson and Josh Flowers.
What is immediately worthy of praise are the voice and songs. There is a roughened patina of life well-lived in Hawthorne’s lyrics, which are often tales of hard hearts and heart-rending episodes which easily fall into a class delivered by the best troubadours of tough story-telling. There is darkness and half light expressed in a impressive lyrical style. Welding Son of a Gun tells of a man coming to a new realisation of life “… I sold all my guns, I brought myself A welding machine”. This is a man who has picked up the pieces of his life to pursue a new direction with honest hard work. There are less worthy sentiments, such as the stripped back tale of dark intentions in Enemy that, with just voice, guitar and harmonica, conveys the despair of a man who is “counting on your carelessness” as he will “long to watch you die”. There are many other songs that follow a similar theme. Perhaps summed up overall by the lines in the Bonneville-composed closing song Rough Luck “Got stuck with what the dealer dealt, Jokers wild if you please”.
There’s not too much of either lightness or frivolity in Hawthorne’s songs. But then, having spent 21 years in the service of the Marine Corps, he has likely witnessed things that would play on any mind. Like the best blues though, Hawthorne’s music has a spirit that defies any lingering negativity. Some of his heroes included cowboys Clifton Lowe and Alvin Hamrick, who represented his admiration for the cowboy lifestyle. He joined the Marines straight out of high school so that has had a huge significance in shaping his life. This has meant that the music he liked, as well as his own music, needs to have a quality that can be summed up as ‘real’. In Americana he found that and it has become a part of his personal salvation.
Whatever can be drawn from these songs could not equate with totally understanding military service, with the Marine Corps life, unless it was part of your own experience. It does create music that displays something of the reality that he seeks, and we can feel something that feels as if it should be shared as a part of the human experience. There is a sense that one is hearing an expression of hope and survival as well as pain, and this is something to be applauded when so much music borders on the superficial. This is not a hard listen, rather one that has much to offer the listener.