“Live And Never Learn” is one of those wonderful records that reveals itself in different ways with each passing listen.
They have been famed, over the 17 years that they’ve been releasing albums – their debut came out on September 11th 2001 – for their lamentations on the natural world. So it perhaps doesn’t come as much of a shock that Southern California’s I See Hawks In LA usher in their first album in five years with “Song For The Trees”. But for all the talk of “the Acacias, the honeybees” and whichever species of tree they mention elsewhere, this is a song for the people of the world.
Perhaps because they have been through so much in the last few years since their last album – 2013’s “Mystery Drug” (a couple of the band have lost their parents) this is a more personal record than before.
Viewed through this prism, everything else makes sense. “Good intentions, are well and good,” sings Rob Waller on the title track, “but they won’t get you out of the neighbourhood” and it’s almost as IF those traumatic experiences have led them to reflect on their existence – I can certainly recall that when I lost my mum, everything else but that seemed to need thinking about.
Waller and Paul Jacques harmonise wonderfully on the absolute knockout “White Cross” (written with Good Intentions’ Peter Davies), with the deep, rich tones coming straight out of Muscle Shoals, while their apparent desire to play with the formula sees “Stoned With Melissa” – and I See Hawks have always liked an anthem to weed – switch from rock n roll to something more psychedelic, but the twist it takes at the end is most unexpected (and to be fair, I am always going to love a record that has the phrase “sitting in Melissa’s basement with a black and white TV, watching Trading Places, she hates Eddie Murphy” at its heart.
“Poour Me” (sic) is a classic country strum, and an ode to getting roaring drunk – at least ostensibly, but then you need to remember that these boys and lady are a little too subtle for that. There is more of that feel on “Planet Earth”, which is elevated above the norm by some absolutely stunning Lap Steel playing.
Perhaps the best example of their ability to look at things in a way that no one else would is “The Last Man In Tujunga”, it has all the devil may care ebullience of Chuck Berry, but it concerns the fires that saw bass player Paul Marshall almost lose his home (and it has a little Stones homage too). This left-field thinking, though, is natural, not forced, and when they are looking at graves at the start of “Singing In The Wind” it all makes perfect sense.
Drummer Victoria Jacobs narrates her own story on “My Parka Saved Me” and it almost has an air of “The Leader Of The Pack” as she does, while members of Old Californio appear on “King Of The Rosemead Boogie” which rocks and pulses along with a rare urgency.
“Tearing Me In Two” with its Celtic touches is another highlight, as are Jacobs’ vocals on the 60s, West Coast infused “Spinning” that follows in the spirit of The Byrds and their ilk and seems to be floating along. And the fiddle work of Dave Markowitz is quite brilliant on the equally blissful – but in an entirely different way – “The Isolation Mountains”.
“Stop Me” ends the record on a warm, airy note. Its widescreen sounds seem to suggest that anything is possible, and such is the ambition on this album that you couldn’t disagree with the premise.
“Live And Never Learn” is one of those wonderful records that reveals itself in different ways with each passing listen. I could review it tomorrow and hear different things – that’s just how it is made. It is these textures, though, these different strands, that make it so special.
I See Hawks In L.A. are the longtime local masters of Flatlanders-style cosmic country rock—well, it’s more a state of mind than a style, isn’t it? Anyway: Hawks have been a band in L.A. for 17 years and every time they think they’ve seen it all, something else decides to happen. Their new Live and Never Learn album is their first release since 2013, and comes inspired by (or inspired despite, or inspired because of) natural disaster and personal tragedy, a potent tradition that goes all the way back to murder ballads and disaster songs. But founding Hawks Rob Waller and Paul Lacques—interviewing with aplomb here—are still flying, and now they’ve added bassist Paul Marshall, whose credits go all the way back to the Beyond The Valley Of The Dollssoundtrack, and drummer Victoria Jacobs, whose credits go all the way back to L.A.’s Ms. 45 and Roger Corman soundtracks. Live and Never Learn is out June 29, and “The Isolation Mountains” is a characteristically Hawks-ian meditation on the now and the next, says Lacques: “[It’s] an acoustic waltz continuing the Celtic vein, a rural California vision of the afterlife with Galway-style fiddle by Dave Markowitz. There’s an ultimate isolation that pulls at us all but that only helps us more fully savor the moments of true connection with those we love.” I See Hawks in L.A. plays Sun., June 10, at McCabe’swith Tony Gilkyson, and on Fri., July 13, at Cal Plaza downtown with a special set of protest songs—more info at the band’s site here!
out June 29
Reviewed by Jim Hynes
Emerging from a string of family deaths, California wild fires and various struggles, the band found some solace in finally being able to record again. The songwriting team of Rob Waller and Paul Jacques receives contributions from bassist Paul Marshall and drummer Victoria Jacobs on this outing. Members of Old Californio deliver “King of the Rosemead Boogie” and via email form Peter Davies of the U.K.’s Good Intentions we have “White Cross” and “Singing in the Wind.” The latter takes us to the shores of Northern Ireland. Jacobs sings on her psychedelic folk oriented “Spinning” and recounts a tragic tale from the winter on Lake Michigan in “My Parka Saved Me.”
“Last Man in Tujunga” is native territory as the story unfolds about a breakup conversation over a cell phone as the flames from a fire draw nearer. Although the song was written years ago, it is frighteningly timely as Marshall was forced to evacuate his home in the recent fires twice – lyrically stated as “almost out of minutes” as the “flames were licking at the gates.”
The band has long been noted for its sense of humor which we hear on the self-pitying “Poour Me,” their requisite ode to weed in “Stoned with Melissa” and their interest in conservation with “Planet Earth” and “Ballad for the Trees.” Markowitz’s fiddle and Lawrence’s accordion drive both “Isolation Mountains” and “Tearing Me in Two,” both outstanding tracks.
I See Hawks in LA are consistent with terrific story songs and solid musicianship. After the hiatus, they sound as good as ever, maybe even a little better
September 11, 2001 … a day that none of us will soon forget. It was also the day when I See Hawks in L.A. released their eponymous debut to the world and immediately conquered the hearts of everyone who liked roots music. The fact that Dave Alvin took part in it was an argument to open many doors, just like the presence of fiddler Brantley Kearns: a band that gets that ready at its debut, which is going to follow as a matter of course and that’s what we did, certainly when they also brought Chris Hillmann Cody Bryant and Rick Shea into the studio for “California Country”.
Over the years the group expanded and today you have as base the four Rob Waller (guitar and lead vocals, Paul Lacques (guitar, lap steel and vocals), Paul Marshall (bass and vocals) and Victoria Jacobs (drums, guitar and vocals), which is complemented with Richie Lawrence (accordion and piano), Dave Markowitz (fiddle), Danny McGough (keys) and Dave Zirbel (pedal steel guitar) on four tracks, four vocalists and three songwriters in the band. is a great luxury and that shows once again on this first new CD in over five years: most of the songs come from the pins of the tandem Waller / Lacques, but drummer Victoria Jacobs also contributes with her “Spinning”, a wonderful piece of psychedelic folk and the story behind her “My Parka Saved Me”: she speaks the story and the other band members make it a great country rock song, larded with the most fantastic doo-wop background vocals and a Hammond party w we are very quiet of you.
Just like on their previous records, the Hawks again have the necessary attention for nature (“Planet Earth” and “Ballad for the Trees”), but where this album is mainly distinguished from earlier work – besides the fact that there is a Striking a couple of times and becoming boogie-d (“King if the Rosemead Boogie” tears away quite a bit) – the conclusion that the Hawks have been able to process the far-reaching events that they experienced. The five years between the previous record and this new one, after all, were the time in which Rob Waller lost his mother to cancer and Paul Lacque even lost both his parents. Most of the songs on this album were written in those days of those events and you can hear that.
The quality of the Hawks songs is top class as ever, but the effect – even the mixing is excellent – and the orchestration is nowhere less than sublime. That is probably best expressed in “White Cross” and “Singing in the Wind”. , two songs, that Waller and Lacques wrote together with UK’er Peter Davies, of The Good Intentions and in “The Last Man in Tujunga”, a story about a relationship that is broken by phone at the moment the forest fires keep on come closer. The fact that Bassist Paul Marshall had to evacuate his house twice during last year’s forest fires adds an extra cachet to this impressive and rocking song.
The Hawks will gradually be tired of the comparison with The Eagles, but you can not ignore them: these gentlemen belong in the line that is led by that band and that the co-country rock kept for eternity, although they may part also have a label “approved by Dave Alvin” on the cover. This album is great: watch the specialized charts next month: they will score very high, for sure!