Gram Parsons has been dead for roughly 35 years, and yet he can still be heard all over Hallowed Ground, the latest Big Book Records release from I See Hawks In L.A. Hallowed Ground is precisely the “Cosmic American Music” Parsons would have loved. The band effortlessly blends the three-part harmonies, fiddles and weeping steel of country/roots music with the driving drums, heavy reverb and fiery licks we associate with more rock-oriented offerings. Flavor the whole mess with zydeco, Tex-Mex and even some Celtic flourishes and you’ll get an idea of how much ground Hallowed Ground covers. On this outing, the Los Angeles-based quartet is further reinforced with a handful of hired guns, including guitarist Rick Shea (Dave Alvin) and pedal steel whiz Dave Zirbel (Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen) whose licks are sure to stir memories of the late Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
Suffice to say, these boys can all play like the devil, but what really sets I See Hawks In L.A. apart from the others who play in the same sandbox is their willingness to deal with themes that fall decidedly outside of country music’s traditional comfort zone. Instead of predictable ditties about dead end jobs and no good women, Hallowed Ground offers songs that dabble in ecology, metaphysics, time travel and for the romantics in the audience, a lovers’ stroll that ends in a suicide pact. My favorite has to be Ever Since The Grid Went Down, a wry, picture-postcard of life in post-Apocalyptic California that just might become a survivalist anthem if/when this country finally goes to hell in a bobsled.
Very highly recommended for fans of the The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, and the aforementioned Dave Alvin. Absolutely essential if you refused, on principle, to buy Long Road Out Of Eden retail simply because it was sold exclusively at Walmart and Sam’s Club.
“Southern California is a land of strange, dangerous and beautiful contrasts. A mountain lion prowls outside the tract home bedroom of a teenage girl while she talks, oblivious to its existence, on her cell phone. A rattlesnake slithers across an empty shopping mall parking lot on a hot summer night while the employees count up the days profit and turn out the lights. While paparazzi chase the latest talent free celebrity, a talented, literate bunch of soulful musicians create honest and wise roots music for the ages. I See Hawks are indeed one of California’s unique treasures.”
— Dave Alvin
I See Hawks in L.A., Hallowed Ground (out May 20):
“I really liked a lot of these alt-country rockers’ last album, and this one continues to display versatility, variety and power, with an intriguing dystopian science-fictional bent in the lyrics. “
–Ken Barnes, USAToday
The politically and socially-themed country rock’n’roll of I See Hawks in LA continues on its 2008 album Hallowed Ground, whose back cover shot of a wilted group of flowers against an out of focus Los Angeles skyline sums up the sentiments about trying to keep it all together in a harsh series of environments. If a listener’s reaction to songs with fairly direct messages like “Carbon Dated Love” and “Environmental Children of the Future” will definitely vary person to person, there’s no question that the quartet has the kind of easygoing but sprightly sound down that defines what 21st century roots music that isn’t afraid of modern recording technology sounds like, whether it means the crackle of feedback or simply an appreciation for clear sound.
Folkworks, May-June 2008
By Joel Okida
The thinking man’s country ensemble, who seem to soar ever higher over the vast wilderness of hyphenated roots music bands, have released another recording, Hallowed Ground, and it admirably adds to the existing evidence that they deserve their previous acclaim.
Yes, there is some indication that they have some kind of preternatural flower power at their disposal. However, you could eschew the acid folk, biorhythm and blues, hippie-hop, and eco-country tags because the songs that they offer are still just under the good music umbrella, psychedelic-imbued or not.
For a non-Californian like myself, I find myself reaching for a map to locate the California reference points in this band’s songs. On Grapevine, it was Humboldt and Grapevine and here on their fourth release, Hallowed Ground, Yolo County. Geography aside, the band channels Gram Parsons, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Byrds/Burritos into one of this decade’s premiere psychedelic country rock bands. What makes it work? It’s the superb lead vocals of Rob Waller, capable players in the core lineup or guests featuring such stalwarts as Brantley Kearns on fiddle (first record) and to this disc’s addition of Dave Zirbel (Commander Cody) on pedal steel, Gabe Witcher (Merle Haggard) on fiddle and others with rich roots pedigrees. And, more than anything, it’s their laid –back hippie vibe. Check out the mellow “Highway Down.”
California, and Los Angeles in particular, helped create the genre known as country rock. It’s a niche that’s pretty loosely defined, but most will agree that Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and mid-period Byrds had something to do with it. All of which is to say that country music is nothing new in Southern California. Still, I See Hawks in L.A. has managed to carve out their own unique slice of the country rock pie with their bluegrass-like three part harmonies, songs that hew closer to the country than the rock side of the equation, and a literary approach to lyric writing that’s at once highbrow and down home. They’ve also got a sense of humor, which can be the kiss of death to any band in pop music, but the wit of songwriters Rob Waller and Paul Lacques is laced with enough dark irony to prevent you from laughing out loud.
“The greatest country band from California is back with powerful melodies, smart vocals, love, trouble and social involvement. ‘Environmental Children Of The Future’ is a melancholic song of the future and the environment. In ‘The Salty Sea’ we get historical misdeeds accompanied by irish tunes. But everything is written in a storytelling form, never turning into placards. And musically it’s varied, loving, and – well, really fun!”
— Magnus Sundell, Trots Allt Magazine, June/July 2008 (Sweden)
“Recently I got a copy of a new CD, Hallowed Ground, by I See Hawks in L.A. They’re psychedelic country rockers who recorded this latest project at an apartment in Echo Park. The CD is almost too good: theatrical in the style of the Four Tops or Dave Alvin. Country and green don’t always go together happy-like. But on Hallowed Ground they dance. Read: their song ‘Ever Since the Grid Went Down.'”
— Jenny Burman, L.A. Observed
I See Hawks in L.A. : Hallowed Ground 9 out of 10 stars
A successful band from the Californian country scene with a great live reputation, the Hawks are as down to earth – literally – as you could wish. How many other bands have ever sung a paean to fossilized ferns (Carbon Dated Love) or squeezed a line like ‘The earth is a self-regulating organism’ into a wistful ballad (Environmental Children of the Future)? Are they too po-faced to be fun? Well, no, because they marry this almost entirely serious lyrical agenda to some really great music.
Coming from a country rock base (for Hawks think Eagles with a harder edge) they’ve broadened their outlook considerably. The pedal steel of auxiliary Hawk Dave Zirbel is frequently a distinctive feature of their music but on Hallowed Ground they stretch themselves in to an Irish Sea folk sound ( that is, borrowing freely from folk traditions on all sides of the Irish Sea) and yet still rock out with some loud, head-in-the-speaker, ass-shaking numbers. ‘Ever Since The Grid Went Down’ is built around a rockabilly shuffle and ‘Getting Home Tonight’, amongst others, has an electric guitar passage, ripe for expansion on stage, that you could lose yourself in.
There’s some beautiful fiddle playing here, too, that makes a big impression; in fact it was a surprise to look up the credits and discover that there’s only fiddle on four out of the fourteen tracks. All in all, it’s a beautifully balanced album; the warm wistfulness of ‘Highway Down’, for example, contrasts just fine with the sweet, neat, anti-love song ‘Open Door’, the only song not written by the Rob Waller/ Paul Lacques team. For me, this is a step up from 2006’s ‘California Country’ and a very satisfying record altogether.
–John Davy, WHISPERIN’ AND HOLLERIN’ UK