Uncut May 21, 2012
Counterpunch April 8, 2012
Los Angeles Beat April 9, 2012
PopMatters April 11, 2012
RoughstockApril 12, 2012
Country Standard Time April 4, 2012
Music New Nashville April 3, 2012
The California Report March 25, 2012
Bluegrass Special March 2012
L.A. Record March 14, 2012
Rhapsody March 2012
SPIN March 9, 2012
LA Weekly March 5, 2012
BLURT February 29, 2012
Mike Finklestein February 28, 2012
Lone Star Music March/April 2012
MOJO June 2012
No Depression March 26, 2012
Turnstyled and Junkpiled February 22, 2012
Turnstyled and Junkpiled/Sin City Spotlight April 10, 2012
Twangville March 2, 2012
Michael Doherty March 2, 2012
Blog Critics March 5, 2012
Santa Monica Patch March 2, 2012
Uncut May 21, 2012
WEEKEND EDITION APRIL 6-8, 2012
A New Kind of Lonely
by RON JACOBS
Imagine yourself in a small cabin in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, California. There’s a small fire burning in the stone fireplace just warm enough to burn away the Pacific fog creeping through the space underneath the door. People are gathered in the main room. Some are tuning their instruments, others are twisting up a reefer or two and still others are pouring pints of home brew. Everybody gets settled and the picking begins.
That cabin, that scene, is where the latest disc from the California band I See Hawks In LA takes me. This CD, titled A New Kind of Lonely, is their fifth release (sixth if you include their “hits” collection) and, in a departure from their other work, is performed solely with acoustic instruments. Foregoing their electric guitars and pedal steel, I See Hawks In LA have turned in a solid piece of work that simultaneously enhances and expands their singularly exquisite sound.
Not quite country, not quite rock, I See Hawks In LA create music that might best be described as a twenty- first century manifestation of that high lonesome sound first introduced to the world by Bill Monroe and other bluegrass pioneers. This CD, given the fact of its entirely acoustic performances, emphasizes that link to the lonely hollers of Southern Appalachia that one hears in songs like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Uncle Pen,” or “I’ll Fly Away.” The difference lies in the song’s topics. Instead of Kentucky, Jesus, or moonshine, New Kind of Lonely includes songs about Austin, the Grateful Dead, and weed. Unlike previous releases, the songs here tend toward more personal situations; personal situations that represent a life outside the mainstream. After opening with a song titled “Bohemian Highway” the listener travels this highway while entertained with tales from the outlands of California’s bohemia. It is a bohemia birthed in the hippie/freak culture of the 1960s and 1970s and still celebrated in song, literature and some folks’ daily lives. Like the best fiction emerging from this metaphysical realm (Vineland by Pynchon, Already Dead: A California Gothic by Denis Johnson), there are also warnings of the dangers one might find in a culture that accepts drug use and drifting as aspects of its essence.
Certain vocalists are instantly recognizable. One of those singers is the aforementioned Bill Monroe. Others include Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Mahalia Jackson, Bonnie Raitt and Leonard Cohen, to name just a few. The vocals of I See Hawks In LA’s Rob Waller fall into this category. The smoothness of his delivery (unlike Dylan or Young, whose singing is anything but smooth) does not muffle its sweetness or singularity. There are songs of joy and songs of warning. Songs about wandering and songs about getting hitched.
The key to I See Hawks’ is their playing. This acoustic masterpiece features plenty of incredibly adept, pleasing even achingly beautiful guitar playing. There are not enough superlatives to describe it. Indeed, it could stand on its own if the vocals did not exist. When one adds the fiddle playing of Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers), the sound becomes sublime. In the past, I have tried to summon musicians that I See Hawks In LA reminds me of. While not an easy task because of their genuinely unique sound, Gram Parsons, New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Byrds have come into mind. This release has reminded me of another. Back in the 1970s there was a group that hailed from Kentucky and Arizona called Goose Creek Symphony (they returned in the 1990s and still perform). Their sound was a combination of rock music, clogging, horns, fiddle music and just plain awesome picking. Every once in a while their music became something as celebratory as a group of old timers celebrating their latest batch of likker. You feel so good; you just have to kick up something.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com
A small gem chock-full of true and heartfelt Americana.
by Steven Spoerl
11 April 2012
link to full article
I See Hawks in L.A. have established themselves by virtue of not only skill but also importance. They’re a fixation of Los Angeles and are making some of the most beautiful and well-crafted Americana of just about anyone. Very few artists can present Americana in its truest form, a melting pot of American traditional music, yet New Kind of Lonely is the perfect presentation of that understanding.
First and foremost, it’s all acoustic and was recorded live—in a circle, no less. That sort of home-spun vibe imbues the entirety of New Kind of Lonely and it’s hard not to be won over by the band’s commitment to that aesthetic, which is an unbelievably natural fit. That aesthetic acts as another one of New Kind of Lonely‘s many hard-won victories. I See Hawks in L.A. understand their roots to the fullest degree and do them all justice on every single track.
New Kind of Lonely introduces itself perfectly with “Bohemian Highway”, a mid-tempo number that’s wonderfully orchestrated with finger-picking arrangements to be envied and a campfire melody worthy of country classics. It also provides an insight to the mood and content of the record. New Kind of Lonely is largely a celebratory record in feel, yet the fixation with death and the darker aspects of humanity permeates the record. However, the two are balanced so artfully that it makes New Kind of Lonely a strange prairie home companion to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which was the last record to become notable for accomplishing that
“Dear Flash” and “The Spirit of Death” continue to demonstrate I See Hawks in L.A.‘s vice-grip on their pursuit of that down-home sound, with “The Spirit of Death” having a burst of exhilarating inspiration in its closing moments. At times, that down-home sound is so convincing that it recalls the works of a little-known backwoods theatre production that had small theatrical runs released to enormous acclaim in a remote region of Wisconsin. That small production company was called American Folklore Theatre and they held many of the same influences and debts that New Kind of Lonely owns and owes. That the two entities line up so seamlessly is
unsurprising, considering their respective pedigrees and tendencies. There’s skilled players in spades, content both humorous and human presented with a certain familial sense and admirable pluck. It’s extremely evident on standout track “I Fell in Love With the Greatful Dead” which recounts actual encounters members of I See Hawks have had with that legendary bands live show.
To attempt to describe the majority of these songs with in-depth precision would be doing a disservice to the freewheeling vibe New Kind of Lonely so effortlessly conjures and exudes. Every song on this record has one or two incredibly strong moments (see: the chorus in “Mary Austin Sky” or the melody in “Younger But Wiser”) but as wholes are individual masterpieces in miniature, true to form. “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” might be the hardest-hitting and fiercest track on this collection but unfortunately represents the point where New Kinds of Lonely‘s only fault is evident; it’s just too long. At nearly any point on the record, and even more certainly in a live setting, “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” would light everything on fire, from the hay to the barn to the logs that it’s easy to imagine these songs being played around.
The final two songs are both fine songs but suffer, only slightly, from the record’s length and their placement. While they do make sense as the closers in a long sequence with their soft end-of-the-night restraint, it’s clear that they also would’ve benefited from being a part of a shorter record. Taken on their own, they’re beautiful ruminations on love and loss (especially “Your Love is Going to Kill Me”) and would certainly bring a campfire, barn, or bar show to a satisfying close. Ultimately, that might be what New Kind of Lonely aims for; the complete story. The fact that they pull it off next to flawlessly even with the padded length is something worth celebrating and it’d be difficult to imagine anything better than the record itself as the soundtrack.
7 of 10 Stars