Ted Hawkins never enjoyed much commercial success as a singer/songwriter, though anyone who ever heard him perform is unlikely to forget it. Hawkins was a Venice Beach street performer for the bulk of his life, which came to a sad end in 1995 at the age of 58.
Though he was overlooked for most of his lifetime in the United States, the Mississippi native is being honored posthumously with “Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins.” The sublime 16-track platter features 15 Hawkins tunes performed by a variety of current artists, as well as an unreleased demo sung by Hawkins himself.
“Ted Hawkins’ songs and his voice were infectiously uplifting to me upon first listen 20 years ago,” notes album co-producer Kevin Russell, a singer/songwriter in his own right. “His unique style, both soulful and folkie, has haunted me and taught me — so much that I have been on a personal mission to tell the world about this national musical treasure.”
The blues-tinged compositions get the country/Americana treatment here, with especially impressive entries courtesy of James McMurtry (“Big Things”), Kasey Chambers (the title track), Mary Gauthier (“Sorry You’re Sick”), Jon Dee Graham (“Strange Conversation”), Sunny Sweeney (“Happy Hour”), Danny Barnes (“Bad Dog”) and Steve James (“Whole Lotta Women”). The quiet power of Hawkins’ voice shines through on the stripped demo “A Great New Year” that closes this terrific album. (Jeffrey Sisk)