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July 2007

Brits Out

The good news is that Britain is pulling out of Northern Ireland after 38 years. The bad news is that some of them are being deployed to Iraq.
brits out.jpg
County Galway

From Topanga To The Sea

Paul L and Victoria went on their usual Tuesday hike in Topanga Canyon, and it was dry, dry, dry.

DSCN4327.jpgAll the grass is completely brown, and the trail has an inch of powder dust in the low spots.

The plants still thriving are the tough chapparal shrubs.

DSCN4319.jpgSome of the shrubs are more like trees. The western slopes of L.A. County haven’t had a major fire in an unusually long time. The Topanga air vibrates with unresolved tension. New grass from the odd July rain has already flourished and died.

DSCN4342.jpgAs we walked east on the trail out of the ranger’s headquarters, we passed a down and out couple moving their possessions through the dust, sad little pastel urban backpacks on plastic wheels, clothing bags, and an outdoor gas stove in its battered shipping box. They were dragging their stuff in shifts along the trail to a picnic area a mile away, where a similarly hardbitten sister or aunt was changing a baby’s diaper on a picnic table. I guess that’s their new home. Tom Joad has returned. It’s better than Sixth and San Julian.

DSCN4352.jpgWe reached the ridge as a golden light filtered through smog or perhaps smoke from the Santa Barbara fire. In L.A. the sun seems to set in the north, because the Santa Monica Bay faces southward to a false west. A town of illusion. We were sweaty and parched, and chugged the rest of our water.

DSCN4379.jpgFrom the ridge a wide fire road dips back towards the canyon and thick oak stands, with a grand view of the Bay (ignore the greedy Palisades Highlands McMansion cluster that should never have been built). As twilight fell, a dense cloud blanket over the Santa Monica Bay crept up the canyons towards us, glowing.

DSCN4388.jpgThe fire road dropped steeply into the fog bank, which we felt first, a drop of 15 degrees, sweet relief. Then we were in the mist, a fast moving ghost that filled Topanga in minutes.

DSCN4394.jpgIf you are in the oaks at twilight, you are almost sure to see owls, and tonight a huge one dropped onto the dirt road 50 feet in front of us, hard to see in the tricky light. We walked towards him, and he took off for the tree branches above, picking a branch too small, flapping his huge wings to balance, now sharply silhouetted. We stood and gawked for a long while, hooting, pleased when he turned his head towards us with a distinctly annoyed attitude. At last Mr. Owl flapped off the high branch, swooped over an oak and roused a companion. The two disappeared into the last light.

Sweet Steel and Summer Rain

Dave Zirbel is a remarkable man, grounded as his truck that traversed the 5 south from the far north to L.A. this weekend, yet able to soar to the heights of cosmic steel reached by Jaydee Maness and Sneaky Pete.
On Saturday and Sunday Dave stomped on his pedals and blazed through 11 Hawks songs, stopping only for midnight carne asada at a taco truck on Figueroa near Shawn’s studio. Beautiful shimmering textures, and it’s starting to sound like a record. Thank you Dave, and godspeed to your Monday noon downbeat at the Sonoma County Fair.
Speaking of Monday morning, it’s raining. Petrichor and distant thunder wake us and we pad to the back door and stand in the gentle water. Never was it needed more.

Grand Ole Echo, Hawks Finish Recording Basic Tracks

While the West, which is located east of California, burns, it’s been pretty mellow weather here in the Southland. A few scattered fires in the hills, and just hot enough to remind you that it’s summer, and you’ve got to get out for those long languid evenings.

Our languid evening Sunday last was spent trying to find parking for The Echo on Sunset in Echo Park, EP being inundated by visitors to the strange and quaint Lotus Festival on the lake shore to the south.**

We had time for a quick soundcheck and then the Hawks were onstage backing up Christina Ortega and her longtime great guitarist/mandolinist Tom Corbett, their first L.A. show in a while. The Hawks and fiddler Cliff Wagner bumped up the Tejano-Bluegrass mix of tunes, including “Tu Solo Tu” “Milk Cow Blues,” and “Corrido de Dolores Huerta,” to wall of sound status, if we do say so ourselves, and the crowd, which was already packed out well before sundown, called Christina and friends back for an encore. Christina, let’s do it again. Old Californio, led by the mysterious and mojo filled Rich Dembowski, is the happening new band on the L.A. Americana scene. If one must compare, think Bad Company meets The Band, with thoughtful lyrics, long guitar solos that count, a funky brainy sound. They’ve got a well deserved big following after only a few live shows, and their middle slot set riveted the room.

The Hawks closed out with another great Grand Ole Echo set. This funky room is really starting to feel like home. Wall to wall fans, request yells duly honored, a rocking show, with Cliff joining the band halfway through, playing brilliantly. Tom Corbett and the irrepressible Juke Logan joined the wall of men for encore song “Wonder Valley,” with Cliff burning through Orange Blossom Special midway through the journey. Summer west of the West.On the next two languid evenings the Hawks repaired to drummer Shawn’s hillside home studio and finished five more tracks for our new CD, including unabashed hippie wanderer love paean “Gettin Home Tonight,” and we’re done with basics. A toast with McCallan’s 18 year old, tasting a bit youthful for its years, and our next move is recording pedal steel wizard Dave Zirbel this coming Saturday and Sunday. A groove oriented July so far!

**check out Michael Webster’s song “Lotus Festival” for an acid tinged journey through the lakeside festivities

Hawks Restaurant Review: The Casbah, Silverlake

We usually review only out of town dining experiences, but we feel a shoutout is due the atmospheric and consistently good Casbah, at 3900 West Sunset Blvd. in the heart of Silverlake. They open at 6 a.m., faithfully, with a great tea selection, including exotic puer and black tea cakes in exotic shapes, and baristas who are rivaled in L.A. only by Culver City’s Conservatory for Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa, or Peets on a good day. Great quiches, pastries, fruits, and an atmosphere so hip you can cut it with a wi fi signal.



Rob and Paul L are experiencing that thrill of thrills, having one of your songs covered, and in this case it’s an especially rare treat, because it’s by a new band with deep traditional roots and a heavy sound: Polka Freakout.

PF is Bubba Hernandez and Alex Meixner, virtuosos on bass and accordion with a wicked drummer and some famous musical guests, and they’re now the band to watch as they push the traditional music envelope.Bubba was a big part of Brave Combo’s heart and soul for years, and he’s brought his groove and arranging chops to a project that’s fully mature on its first time out. And you can dance to it.

The Freakout recorded “Baby,” from the Hawks’ first CD, and it’s a rush for us to hear the added layers of arrangement sophistication, and Bubba’s soulful vocals. Paul L has a second song on the CD, “Girl Of My Dreams,” written with Bubba back in the days when Paul’s polka band Rotondi was regularly getting its ass kicked by Brave Combo on tour. Polka forever.


The Hawks have been struggling to keep up with some kickass female energy this summer, and not just from our kickass wives.

July 4th Eve brought the Hawks and the Chapin Sisters to the Echo for a surprisingly packed out evening in the midst of a heat wave that’s fossilizing the already dried out hills of the Southland. The AC in the Echo works if you’re lurking in the weird and haunted stairway leading to the odiferous and also haunted band room. Otherwise it’s nice and toasty at the bar, which makes for good musical energy.The Hawks did a noisy electric set and the Chapin Sisters followed with their angelic authority that brought the crowd to a hush within two verses and a chorus of the first song. It never fails. We joined them at the end for a Hawks song we wrote for the Sisters, a Crystal Gayle post-free love 1970’s country rocker dripping with found object irony, and then a new Chapin Sisters original that haunts our aural memory still. And out into the still sultry night.
Last night we ventured east to the edge of downtown L.A., miss that left turn off First Street onto Vignes and you’re crossing the scenic bridge over the rail yard and the L.A. “River.” We finally located the new and hip scene, Bordello, inside Little Pedro’s, a sort of tribute to perhaps a mosque and reputedly an early L.A. whorehouse.
The interior is still tarted up, red and gilded wood setting the moody mood.

Dave Remarkable Markowitz sat in with us on electric fiddle, it’s been a long time, too long, and we had a great set and then were knocked over by the all girl except for the bobbing bass player experimental Latin folk rock groove that is Pistolera. Great songs, simple but hard hitting playing with that elusive twist that separates the new from the same old. The tunes were memorable and fearlessly straight ahead. No gimmicks, and a new direction. That’s not easy. Pistolera. Don’t miss them next time.The night was overcast as we scattered to the two and a half winds, maybe we’ll get some rain.