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On one end of the musical spectrum, you have Americana. It's all warmth and natural sound, sort of like if a tree could somehow write a song about itself. On a guitar made out of itself. On the other end, you have ‘80s music, every note processed and electronically modulated, sort of like if Rosie, the Jetsons’ robot maid, cut a solo album (by the way, the name of that imaginary album is Positively Riveting). In the middle, we have the HawtThorns, a husband and wife duo from California exploring country/Americana through a pleasantly ‘80s imbued filter. It's an album filled with a sound that no one would have said the world needed, but is, in fact, something that needed to be invented.
Morning Sun is the debut album from KP and Johnny Hawthorn, two solo artists. The duo create country songs that don't have a typical country sound. In essence, they've created a lovely country album that often hides in a 1980s jumpsuit. To be clear, this is an Americana album. There are neither synth breaks nor threats of a keytar solo. But the HawtThorns inject their songs with an ‘80s indebted sheen.
Part of that polish is KP's voice, which is pretty but also lacks a sense of geography. Most country and Americana singers, even those from outside of the American south, tend to use a Southern accent of some kind to orient their songs in a place. KP doesn't, which helps to give Morning Sun its distinctive sound.
"The 405," KP's pretty ode to California's traffic-ridden interstate, could be a Sheryl Crow song. And in Crow's hands, the vocals would probably have some kind of drawl (although Crow herself is a product of Missouri, not Mississippi). KP's vocals are much more straightforward, though, so while the acoustic and slide guitars scream timeless folk, her vocal delivery, and her lyrics, all about a contemporary California road, are more modern. The result is almost like vintage Cyndi Lauper relocated to Appalachia.
"All I Know," a duet between KP and Johnny, with its shimmery guitar riff, has even more of a straight-up 1980s sound. Once they go into an impossibly poppy chorus, it's hard not to imagine the song as the theme to a way-too-good sitcom that could never seem to win its time slot against Growing Pains. But there are also tracks with a more familiar country sound, like "Give Me a Sign," which wouldn't sound out of place coming from an artist like Drive-By Truckers. But one that also wouldn't sound nearly as rich and beautiful.
Ultimately, the gift of the HawtThorns is how they make songs sound pretty. They do it in a variety of ways. Their arrangements. KP's vocals. And their gorgeous sense of melody.
This gift is most apparent on their cover of John Moreland's "Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore." Moreland’s studio version of the track is great, because he wrote a fantastic song. But in the hands of the HawtThorns, a great song now also radiates with the beauty of a thousand summer sunsets. The HawtThorns are pretty much just using their voices and some acoustic guitar, but they manage to unlock melodies that take the song someplace completely different from Moreland’s original. They gently and carefully buff away all of the jagged edges in Moreland's original while remaining true to it.
The HawtThorns excel at expertly weaving pop into Americana, which is what makes Morning Sun a special album.
Notable Tracks: "All I Know" | “Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore” | "The 405"