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February 2010

All Music Guide Reviews SBG

Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2009
I See Hawks in L.A.

by Hal Horowitz

The irony of a working band with no hits, or even a recognizable name, releasing a “greatest-hits” album — let alone one that runs a whopping 79 minutes — is not lost on the founding members of I See Hawks in L.A. Founding members lead vocalist Rob Waller and guitarist Paul Lacques address that anomaly in their wry, witty seven pages of liner notes to this generous 17-track overview of the titular years. The group only released four albums during those nine years, but this career/label-spanning disc packs enough terrific Americana into its playing time to convince any fan of the genre that this group’s music has flown under the radar for too long. It’s impossible not to reference Gram Parsons, not just due to the sun-baked West Coast roots and C&W sensibilities, but because of the soul and subtle humor evident in the groove. Seven songs are previously unreleased, so even those familiar with the Hawks’ catalog will need to add this to their collections, especially since some of the newly recorded tunes, including the title track, are highlights of the collection. Lead singer Waller has an emotional, natural voice that gives these strummy gems a focal point while lifting them to a level out of the reach of less talented singers. Sumptuous harmonies such as those on the closing gospel “The Mystery of Live,” interestingly recorded live, also help these songs soar like the bird in the band’s unusual name. Instrumental guests provide fiddle, pedal steel, and organ that augment the quartet’s sound, and Carla Olson helps on female harmonies for two cuts. Her presence on “Bossier City” reinforces the understated Parsons/Emmylou Harris influence. The humor and bluegrass of “The Salesman” balances more serious material such as “Highway Down,” one of the Hawks’ most intimate and moving songs, and a lost classic in waiting. “Midnight in Orlando” name-checks Disneyland/World with droll lyrics played against a lovely slow Eagles-style melody tinted by sorrowful pedal steel and soulful organ. The energy raises a few notches on the uptempo “Wonder Valley Fight Song,” about as close to rock as this album gets. The disc’s title implies that these tunes should have been, if not gold records, more popular than they were. At the very least, this collection should help establish I See Hawks in L.A. as a journeymen roots act with more than a few tricks, and memorable songs, up its collective sleeve.

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OC Examiner Reviews SBG:

Schwindy’s indie music spotlight: I See Hawks in LA
February 6, 5:38 AM
Orange County Music Examiner
Gary Schwind

While every album is a listening experience (some enjoyable, some forgettable), some albums go beyond something you just listen to. Some albums you need to absorb. Shoulda Been Gold (2001 to 2009) by I See Hawks in LA is one of those albums.

The title of the album is a tongue-in-cheek name for this “greatest hits record that contains no hits.” I see where the band is coming from. This is not a band that writes songs that will shoot up any charts. But make no mistake. These 17 songs are gold, if for no other reason than the fact that there aren’t too many bands like ISHILA anymore. This is an album filled with songs soaked in the Bakersfield sound, with heavy doses of pedal and lap steel guitar. In other words, this is a band that would make Gram Parsons proud.

The band kicks off the album with a song (“Sexy Vacation”) that is bound to get the old toes a-tappin’. From there, the band takes the listener on a journey through songs about free spirits (“Raised by Hippies”), a senator (“Byrd from West Virginia”), and a place known for a particular crop (“Humboldt”). And yes, most of these songs are heavily influenced by the Bakersfield sound. But there is one whose influence comes from much further east. “Laissez les Bons Temps Roulet” is pure ISHILA, but heavily influenced by the music of Louisiana. This song will make you want to spread some salt on the floor to make it easier to move around.

It doesn’t take long to realize that every song on this album is a good story. And that is why you want to…no, need to absorb this album. You need to hear the stories as well as the melodies and harmonies. Do yourself a favor and pick up this album, particularly if you are a fan of Flying Burrito Brothers. I can guarantee two things if you do. First, you won’t feel cheated. This album uses up most of the available space on the disc. Second, you will hear a lot of songs in the vein that sound like they could just as easily have been recorded 40 years ago. And then, when you put the album on, turn the sound up and just absorb the music.

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CMT Reviews SBG: Americana Music Flourishing in Early 2010

Americana Music Flourishing in Early 2010
Posted: February 8th, 2010 at 3:40 pm | By: Craig Shelburne

We’re only six weeks into the year and I’ve been pleased with the amount of new Americana music that’s been coming my way. I think my favorite album title so far is Ray Wylie Hubbard’s A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) and if you listen closely, you might just get some answers from this perceptive Texan. I really like his electrified version of a song he wrote with Hayes Carll, “Drunken Poet’s Dream.” Another cool record I’d recommend is from I See Hawks in L.A., who have just released a compilation called Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2009. Even though I’ve heard their distinctive name for years, it’s the first album I’ve heard by this band. Blending lonesome country with smart lyrics, I now realize I shoulda been paying more attention. Luckily I feel like this solid Gold brings me up to date, even if I am a decade late. At any rate, here’s a sampling of some new Americana music from the last few weeks.

“Drunken Poet’s Dream,” Ray Wylie Hubbard
“Shoulda Been Gold,” I See Hawks in L.A.
“Cumberland,” Randy Kohrs
“Hand of God,” Jason Boesel
“Candice,” Blue Rodeo
“The Day After Everything Changed,” Ellis Paul
“Monday Night,” Barton Carroll
“River Girl,” Zane Williams
“Hearts,” Blair
“Through the Screen Door,” Glossary
“Same Ol’ Feeling,” Joe Swank and the Zen Pirates
“Cold and Lowdown Lonesome Blues,” Blue Highway
“Grandma’s Tattoos,” Bill Emerson and Sweet Dixie
“Alfred,” Gordie Tentrees

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Hurray for the scrappy football team from New Orleans. Once hurricaned out of their stadium, they put together talent and hard work, and didn’t even seem to have to rely on or require any luck at all to vanquish the more highly regarded and favored Indianapolis Colts and prime-time product hawker Peyton Manning. Can Drew Brees sell Coca-Cola? Perhaps we’ll get to find out. Perhaps because New Orleans had been so devastated by Katrina, the revelers and celebrants partied kindly, and didn’t set the town on fire or smash the windows of shoe and electronics stores. Come back to New Orleans, ye businessmen, ye conventioneers, ye who still have a weakened, erstwhile mighty, dollar to spend. It’s safe. It’s fun. It’s got great music, cool sights, delicious food…and the Super Bowl Champs!

We were driving south, the morning after the Palms in Winters. Always a stirring place to play. Crowd energy IS all it’s cracked up to be, and sometimes the crowd gives it up. No more so anywhere than when the Palms crowd hears “Well we got a big gig at the Palms in Winters tonight.”   A roar  from the darkness beyond the footlights, and 150 people feel like 10,000. We’re flying into the Yolo County Airport again.

So we were feeling fairly triumphant, cruising in Susan James’s Crouton, wending our way east through orchard and field to the reliable, familiar 5.   And then, just as we made the big turn southward, we felt (well, some of us felt) that Super Bowl Sunday yearning. The biggest game of the year, and not just a game. A thermometer of America. Who will the country get behind–the favorite? The underdog? What about the most expensive and carefully produced TV ads of the year? Shouldn’t we try to get that thrill, to feel that tension, to enjoy the exuberance; in short, shouldn’t we stop somewhere and watch the Super Bowl?

So we cut over to the 99, through Los Banos, all the while calling establishments in Bakersfield on our cell phones. Our requirements: a TV and food. Most of the places we called were closed or closing. A Greek restaurant. A Basque restaurant . Buck’s Crystal Palace. Trout’s has a small TV, but no food. Another has the TV in the bar, but we couldn’t have dinner in there. Finally, we struck paydirt. Goose Loosey’s on 18th. A real sports bar with big TV’s on every wall, and great burgers and Greek cuisine. To top it off, they had a Mardi Gras special running and Mardi Gras decorations all around.

We watched the second quarter, and the third quarter, and, oh yeah, in between those quarters: The Half Time show. Now some old guys can rock. And some grow in interesting ways. And some put the keys a little lower so they can hit the notes. And then, there’s what’s left of the Who. Won’t get fooled again?!?!? Won’t book the Who again. The real meaning behind the line, “I hope I die before I get old” has been revealed. Unfortunately, he didn’t.


It is day three of our journey. We have traded our tradition of thoughtful and descriptive blogging for the instantaneous tom foolery of the facebook era.  Rob W and Susan James’s gleaming iPhones are passed around among the less tech-current members of the band.  Paul L hogs an iPhone like a two year old with a new toy truck.  We are nothing if not suckers for the digital moment.   We are turning into machines, my friends. And it’s not so bad. Maybe it’s even better. Maybe we’re all better people, but how can we even know? Oops, almost got in an accident! Blindside is 20/20.

What we do know is that it feels good to be back on the road where life’s responsibilities narrow to guitars, espresso, and directions. Wake up late. Eat a leisurely breakfast. Drink coffee. Load the van. Head to a radio show. Head to a club. Sound check. Dinner. Gig. Whiskey. Sleep. Repeat.

Well, let’s try to recount what the last few days have held.   Santa Barbara was rainy and cool. The gig passed quickly. Zola and Henry W danced it up then slept on the couch behind the drum set on stage during the gig. These kids have certainly grown up on the road. Bars and clubs will never feel foreign to them. The smell of stale beer will likely always trigger memories of Daddy. And I think they’ll be good ones.

Then it was up the 101 along on the golden coast draped in low winter clouds, smelling of salt and rain. Paul Lacques will one day retire from the country rock circuit and start his forward-thinking hemp farm in northern California, Gray Water Farms: Where the Water is Wetter and the Weed is Better. Hawks reunion shows will be hosted at the farm among the towering green plants as the sun sets behind the ancient California hills.

Studio E in Sebastopol-adjacent, down a circuituitous series of rural roads through orchards and sprawling mini-farms with home made architecture, is a fantastic place to play. The venue doubles as a recording studio and the sound is excellent. The room’s history as a Grateful Dead party house lingers in the deep comfy couches and purple painted walls. Laurie Schaeffer, the hostess and booker, welcomes us in. She’s prepared brown rice, baked chicken, and lightly steamed asparagus with fresh aoli. I think we’re gonna love this place. We already do.

Susan James opens the show backed up with Hawks. Her songs and voice sound great and the appreciative audience is pulled right in. RW joins for a duet of Conway and Lorreta’s “You’re the Reason or Kids are Ugly” which transitions nicely into the Hawks set. Rob’s folks are in attendance as well as some old and new Hawks friends. Can’t wait to return to this place!


Like all things terrestrial, California is at the mercy of weather and its whims. This year the forces have decided to pour rain upon rain upon us, and the hills as we motor north in Susan James’s Volkswagen Routan (rechristened the Crouton) are an explosive psychedelic green. This is the California that intoxicates, seduces, soothes, and even heals the battered urban soul. Ouch. A thoughtless commuter subdivision, pastel scar against green glory, soon to be rendered obsolete by $20 per gallon gasoline, breaks the mood. And passes. We’re alone with the oaks, raptors, and moss covered stones on steep slopes once again.

We seek the 280 north, to San Francisco and beyond, to Sebastopol, host of our show tonight. Specifically Studio E, a secret hideaway among the apple orchards and foggy sheep. Will Hawks fans brave the rain and the winding directions to find us? We shall see. But all is good in the German (American) van of the future. With two iPhones on board, we are merging our virtual, and virtual virtual worlds. We can post photos of our journey in almost real time and read comments from people sitting in their dens in Eagle Rock or Raleigh or right here in Sebastopol. We can gaze at the tiny electronic map and see the brewpub we’re passing in what used to be our world but is now an alternate reality.

Our culture seems to have reached a critical digital tipping point where most people now spend slightly more time online than not online. Others are constantly jacked in. So what is the “real” world? Is it the green hills and the price of gas or that comment your high school girlfriend just posted on the silly picture of you drinking coffee? Can any of us tell? Strange times, indeed. One day the whole Internet will shut down. An act of God or an act of terrorism (is there a difference?) will interrupt our digital flow for a day or two, maybe even three. What will we do? How will we respond to this cultural detox? Will your neighbor run wild and naked in the streets? Will husbands and wives again return to regular and immediate intimate relations? Of course, the Hawks always look forward to such apocalyptic events.  Bring it on, as a not so wise man once said.

No Depression reviews SBG

Americana Music Releases for the week of Jan. 26th, 2010
Posted by Bill Frater on January 25, 2010 at 3:34pm

I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. – Shoulda Been Gold: 2001-2009 (American Beat)
The hawks are a great SoCal harmony-rich band in the tradition of the Springfield and the Burritos… but since they’re not exactly a household name, this is a compilation rather than a best-of collection. This 17-track collection includes two unreleased tunes and three new recordings, two of em with ex-Textones’ Carla Olson.

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Pasadena Weekly Reviews SBG

By Bliss
I SEE HAWKS IN LA, Shoulda Been Gold: 2001-2009 (American Beat/Collector’s Choice):
(4 stars out of 5)

“The Hawks abide,” as LA’s critically hailed cosmic rockers affirm in amusing liner notes for this collection of 17 tunes that deserve wider recognition. Previously issued fan faves like their politically irreverent, psychedelic eco-enviro anthem “Humboldt,” “Byrd From West Virginia” and “Raised By Hippies” are paired with five new tracks, including “Mystery of Life,” recorded in concert at Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church. Both a primer and celebration of a band often cited as one of LA’s best. At McCabe’s in Santa Monica Sunday. iseehawks.com.

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Santa Barbara is on the flight path for country band I See Hawks in L.A.

By Bill Locey
Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.

I See Hawks in L.A. may still be flying under the popular music radar, but they’ve hooked some very high-profile fans. Roots-rock pioneer Dave Alvin, for one, calls the band “one of California’s unique treasures.”

I See Hawks in L.A. are heading north to play a Thursday night show for the jittery clientele at Muddy Waters, a coffeehouse that rocks in Santa Barbara. I See Hawks in L.A. are a bunch of pros (or semipros, but more on that later) who have been around for a decade playing country music, good for a bunch of albums, including their latest collection of woulda shoulda coulda hits, “Shoulda Been Gold: 2001-2009.’’ The 17-track collection was released this month on Collectors’ Choice Music.

The band probably won’t see too many hawks in Santa Barbara, just those inland sea gulls too dumb to find the dump or the beach, but probably quite a few fans wearing pointy shoes, as the band has been up here before. They used to play Zoey’s in Ventura quite often.

Guitar player Paul Lacques, who used to live in Blythe and even Somis, discussed the latest during a recent phoner.

How’s the band biz?

The biz? The band is great but the biz, well, we’re in the free download age, so the biz is a little sketchy. The band’s doing good.

Don’t stop playing those gigs then.

Yeah. The gigs are our life’s blood, definitely.

Are you guys still under the radar, on the radar or country-rock stars now?

You know, we’re right at the edge. We’re just flirting with the radar thing all the time. Sometimes I think we’re well-known. We just got this review that said we were like in the past and put out these obscure records that you can’t find anywhere, you know?

Where was that from, far away? Californians should know better.

Let’s see, far away, I guess. Oh, here it is, Portland, Ore. I think it’s a blog. We’ve played there about four times. He must be a younger guy.

I don’t think most people think of L.A. as a country town. How does that work out for you guys?

The L.A. country scene is definitely under the radar, but it’s pretty driving. There’s probably a couple of hundred bands, believe it or not, and quite a few places to play.

Ten-plus years is an eternity for a band. How do you account for your longevity?

I would say it’s because we’re good friends and we figured out what each person in the band needs, you know? Some people — and I won’t mention any names — are overly ambitious while other people are underly ambitious. We kind of found the balance and we all decided, “OK, this other guy’s insane, but he needs this, and I’ll give him as much of that as I can.’’ I think it’s about balance and friendship. It feels like we’re going to put out another five albums over the next 10 years.

What’s your take on the new one?

The new one is different. It’s a compilation which, obviously, we’ve never done before. That really shaped the whole thing. The label wanted 12 songs off our earlier records and three new ones. We came up with the three new ones plus a few we’d never released but really liked. So we came up with 17 songs and they said, “OK.” They didn’t squawk about it at all. Ten years. That’s a lot of tracks.

There was a funny line in one of your bios about playing all over California, as in you’ve been to all the Sans and Santas. You’ve had numerous 805 adventures.

We played Zoey’s a bunch until they changed owners. The new people evidently don’t realize how great we are. We’d love to come back. We love that spot.

What was your strangest gig?

You know, we did a rodeo in Banning where the wind was blowing so hard that it was blowing our amps over. You could see for about 20 miles. It was just one of those flat desert valleys, and we were the first thing the wind hit coming from Blythe. Another time, we played a roadhouse in Mississippi where they wanted to hear all cover songs.

What’s your brand of country music?

Oh boy, let’s see. You know, we pretty much steal from everybody. We’re fans of old time bluegrass and of course, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Waylon Jennings in his 1970s period — a lot of influences, you know? There’s some pop and some avant-garde influences that creep in once in a while.

At your gigs, do they do that weird line-dancing thing?

You know, at the state fairs, yeah. At Banning or the Mariposa County Fair they do. Our drummer has played a lot of line-dance gigs. The bass player, too. There’s a certain beat you play and you get people out on the dance floor. We’ll do it if it’s required.

How did the band go over in Europe?

You know what? I might be generalizing, but I would say the average country music fan over there is almost like a scholar. I mean, they’ll name your influences for you and they’ll say, “So you must know about this band and this band and this band” and we’ll say, “Nope, sorry.” And they stay up on it, too. They’re very into alt-country, mainstream country. We felt a real good connection in both the U.K. and Ireland as well as Norway. It felt like kind of a homecoming.

So how does it go over in the South besides the covers gig in Mississippi? What about Nashville?

We’ve actually played in Nashville about five times. We call it the Death Star because we’re never going to break in. I mean, people are real polite there. We’ll do our set, sandwiched between five really hard country writers, and we’ll do our kind of oddball desert stuff and, you know, it’s polite. They’re like, “Thank you. Move on. Go back to California, but y’all come back.’’ It’s an interesting experience, but we will never crack the Nashville shell. It’s not going to happen.

So California country doesn’t fit into Tennessee?

It’s cool. They’re there and we’re here and there’s a lot of miles between us. That might be a good thing, you know? We’re definitely a California band. All the lyrics are rooted here, and we believe in the spirit of the land. We’ve spent a lot of time in the desert. I actually grew up in the desert out in Blythe and it influences the way you sing and play. Three of us are California natives. Later, I lived outside of Victorville in Apple Valley. Last time I went through Apple Valley, I didn’t recognize it. I thought I was in Van Nuys or something. It’s scary how fast the high desert is getting built up. I hope it stops.

How does an indie band make it in an indie world?

I think the Internet has leveled the playing field. We’re all kind of semipro now. There’s the big semipro people, like the “American Idol” people, then there’s the more marginal semipros, like ourselves. Formerly, we probably would’ve been earning a comfortable living. Now it’s sort of a marginal living. But, yeah, it’s all one big fairly happy family.

This is supposed to be fun, right?

Well, it is. We have fun. All our shows are fun. We like getting together and singing and writing songs. It’s all fun. That’s why we’re together after 10 years.

Cincinnati City Beat reviews SBG

When is a greatest hits album not a greatest hit album? A good indication is when a third of its set list is spiced with songs that are either new or have never been released. But the best sign that the collection you’re spinning isn’t a greatest hits package is when there aren’t any hits. And in the case of I See Hawks in L.A., it’s almost unfathomable that the SoCal quartet (with a boatload of talented friends guesting) is in that very position with their new career overview, Shoulda Been Gold.

Formed just over a decade ago by relocated Minnesotan Rob Waller and former Polka shuffler Paul Lacques, the Hawks were an immediate local sensation, combining the Country/Rock style points of The Byrds, the peyote-hazed Honky Tonk of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the trailblazing Country/Pop hybridization of Michael Nesmith along with a twisted sense of humor and laser guided lyrics of social and political import.

I See Hawks in L.A. have released four albums to date — their eponymous 2001 debut, 2004’s Grapevine, 2006’s California Country and 2008’s Hallowed Ground — and each successive disc has found the Hawks inching ever closer to a perfect blending of Country, Pop and Rock, a mutation that features elements of all three genres but is rarely any one of them completely.

If you’ve never heard the Hawks, Shoulda Been Gold is a great sampler. There are excellent selections from their last three albums (including the scorching “Texarkanada,” the brilliantly bouncy “Raised by Hippies” and the gently scathing “Midnight in Orlando”), a trio of terrific tunes recorded specifically for this album (including the title track, “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet” and a cover of David Allen Coe’s “Bossier City,” the latter two with guest vocalist Carla Olson), a couple of archive cuts from the Grapevine sessions, the unreleased 2000 demo of the song from their debut album that gave the band their name and a live version of “The Mystery of Life.”

If this is where you’re beginning your Hawks education, Shoulda Been Gold will inspire you to fill in the gaps by seeking out the albums that comprise the collection. And if you‘re already enlightened to the Hawks’ Cali cowboy gumbo, congratulations on your great taste — but you’ll still want Shoulda Been Gold for its unheard treasures.

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