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Michael Doherty Reviews “Live And Never Learn”

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One of my absolute favorite bands in Los Angeles (or anywhere, for that matter) is I See Hawks In L.A. Part of the reason for that is Rob Waller’s voice, one of the best voices in music these days. It’s a voice that is friendly and wise, experienced, sometimes filled with joy, sometimes with sadness. Another part of the reason is the songwriting. These guys consistently write engaging, honest, and sometimes beautiful material. The band’s new album, Live And Never Learn, is a perfect example of that. All the tracks are originals, nearly an hour of excellent new material. It’s been nearly five years since the band’s last studio release, Mystery Drug. Can that be right? Wow, time is moving much too quickly. This album features the work of several guest musicians, including Richie Lawrence on accordion and piano, Dave Markowitz on fiddle, Danny McGough on organ and synthesizer, and Dave Zirbel on pedal steel.

The Hawks open this album with “Ballad For The Trees.” This is a group that often turns to ecological themes in its material, yet is able to refrain from preaching and to keep from letting messages overpower the music. A steady rhythm gives the song a kind of cheerful vibe from the start, and then when the vocals come in, the lyrics work almost in opposition to that feel. “Have we stripped ourselves of context/Are we drowning in the seas/The facts that come too easily/Friends we never see/Friends we never see.” But then it does rise in optimism. “Here’s a song for the Acacia/Here’s a song for honey bees/Here’s a song just for everyone writing down their dreams.” And we’re off to a great start. “Ballad For The Trees” is followed by “Live And Never Learn,” the album’s title track, which has more of a breezy country vibe. “Well, I try so hard to do what’s right/But that won’t get me through Friday night.” Then there is a surprising section toward the end, with the lyrics coming at you more quickly. “Every promise I knew I’d break/Every friend looks the other way/Every leap I never took/Halfway down, let’s take a look.”

As I mentioned, this band writes some damn good lyrics. In “White Cross,” Rob Waller sings “Good times didn’t suit me/I had to taste the pain” and “I know the angels love me/Even though I did them wrong.” This group conveys heartache so well, but also can provide good times. (I always feel seriously good when I see this band in concert.) Then, as if to prove that, they follow “White Cross” with a rockin’ number about getting stoned and watching Trading Places on a black and white TV, “Stoned With Melissa.” I love those backing vocals, which will likely remind you of early rock and roll and pop tunes. I also love the phrase “vacation from common sense.” Getting stoned is another theme the band does return to. But this song takes a turn and becomes a bit strange in the second half, slowing down and becoming less joyful, and it ends with some spoken word.

“Poour Me,” which was written by all four band members, has a great country sound, with Dave Zirbel adding some wonderful stuff on pedal steel. And it tackles one of those perennial country subjects: problems with drinking. The song opens with the line, “Poor me, poor me, pour me more wine.” Amen. The band approaches the subject with some humor, as in lines like “The eighties was his peak.” And it wouldn’t be an I See Hawks In L.A. album if there weren’t at least a few references to Los Angeles. This song mentions the 110 highway (which has a ridiculously dangerous stretch, with the shortest entrance ramps in existence, for those who haven’t driven this road). That’s followed by “Planet Earth.” This song is a mellow, thoughtful reflection on the state of things and our relation to it. Check out these lyrics: “Thought I saw a magical train/It was just a long shopping mall in the rain/From the corner of my eye to a wish in my brain/That turns a shopping mall into a train/It’s easy, so easy.”

“The Last Man In Tujunga” is a country rock and roll tune about both fire season in southern California and a break-up done over the phone. When he’s losing the signal, he sings “You’re breaking up and I’m losing you.” This one includes a nod to the Rolling Stones.  “My Parka Saved My Life,” which was written by all four band members, features drummer Victoria Jacobs on lead vocals. It’s a strange song, in which Victoria delivers the story as spoken word, and Rob Waller echoes the lines, but sings them. And then the rest of the band provides some wonderful backing vocals, turning the tale of a car accident caused by a drunk driver into something sweet and beautiful. And also funny. This song has me laughing out loud several times, like when Rob suddenly changes his role from echoing Victoria’s lines to adding some of his own, leading her to contradict him, “No, that’s not true.” Another funny moment is when Rob is singing “My parka, my parka, my parka” and Victoria amends the line, giving some new information, “It was my brother’s parka,” and immediately Rob changes his backing vocal line to “It was my brother’s parka.” Still, the song tells a rather serious tale, and ends up being one of my favorite tracks. Victoria Jacobs also provides vocals on the pretty “Spinning,” this time singing the lyrics, which she also wrote. “Spinning, spinning out of time.”

The title “King Of The Rosemead Boogie” does not mislead; this song is a boogie, the music sounding like something ZZ Top might have done in the late 1970s. The lyrics, however, are something else entirely. By the way, for those who don’t reside around here, Rosemead is a city in Los Angeles County. Then I really like the fiddle in “Tearing Me In Two.”  Fiddle is also prominent in “The Isolation Mountains,” a sweet-sounding folk song that is another of the disc’s highlights. “I was pleading with the stars/You turned your back on Mars/Our pillow was the river to the fields.” Am I completely mad, or does this song remind you just a bit of “The First Noel” at moments? The album then concludes with “Stop Me,” which has a light-hearted folk vibe. “I’m staring into the sun/Just want to have some fun/Just like the sweepstakes said/Maybe I’ve already won/Oh, stop me.”

CD Track List

  1. Ballad For The Trees
  2. Live And Never Learn
  3. White Cross
  4. Stoned With Melissa
  5. Poour Me
  6. Planet Earth
  7. The Last Man In Tujunga
  8. Singing In The Wind
  9. My Parka Saved Me
  10. King Of The Rosemead Boogie
  11. Tearing Me In Two
  12. Spinning
  13. The Isolation Mountains
  14. Stop Me

Live And Never Learn is scheduled to be released on June 29, 2018.

Americana UK Reviews “Live And Never Learn”

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How many bands have suffered the “sounds like the Eagles” curse? Even if being mentioned in the same breath surely means they must be onto something good, attempting to match the songwriting and vocal skills of Messrs Henley and Frey is surely an invidious task and is doomed to suffer by comparison. ‘Live and Never Learn’, the first album in five years from I See Hawks in L.A., certainly has that early Eagles country rock feel running through the core of its 14 tracks. The title track offers up a microcosm of what is to come, rhythmic, mid-paced tempo, reverby Telecaster and easy on the ear. The quality of musicianship is spot on throughout the album and much credit for that must go to five-times Grammy-winning mixer Alfonso Rodenas.

Most songs have been written by the combination of band members Paul Lacques, who also produced, and Rob Waller, with many of the songs a direct reflection of the personal angst that the band have lived through over the last few years. Using trouble and strife as inspiration for songwriting is a staple of course but The Hawks have the knack of using subtle humour to mitigate some difficult subject matters. For an example look no further than the unique and distinctive ‘My Parka Saved Me’ which features drummer Victoria Jacobs narrating the true story of a car crash she suffered as a teenager when it was only the thickness of her coat that saved her from the glass.

The Last Man in Tujunga’ tells the tale of a breakup unfolding over a mobile phone call as the flames of a Californian wildfire inch ever closer. There is more than a touch of Mike Nesmith in the vocals here and, again, the subject matter is made even more poignant by band member Paul Marshall’s own recent experience of having to evacuate his Tujunga home during the fires of 2017.

On an album full of great sounding tracks it is two songs that were co-written with Peter Davies of the UK’s Good Intentions that really stand out and showcase that Eagles sound at its best. ‘White Cross’ and ‘Singing in The Wind’ have the Hawks’ trademark intelligent and clever lyrics, great melodies and harmonies. That said, it would be unfair to label the Hawks as a simple Eagles soundalike band. There are boogies, ‘King of The Rosemead Boogie’, the traditional sounding country of ‘Poour Me’ and ‘The Isolation Mountains’, as well as the folksy and dreamlike ‘Spinning’.

Comparisons with musical greats can be unfair and unhelpful but I See Hawks in L.A. have succeeded in recording an album that both showcases their own distinctive musical talents whilst, whether by design or accident, tapping into some of the heart and soul of 70’s California. And that is no bad thing.

70s California brought to life and updated by the talented Hawks of L.A. 7/10

Peter Churchill 

PARIS MOVE REVIEWS “LIVE AND NEVER LEARN”

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Alternative country, Americana … These generic terms now cover a galaxy of formations and artists as diverse as varied. From Uncle Tupelo and Giant Sand to Jayhawks and Calexico, their only real common denominator remains the thematic distance maintained with the original idiom, but also the formal permanence of its musical heritage. Originally (as their name implies) from Los Angeles, I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. employ pedal-steel, fiddle and dobro, as well as guitar picking borrowed from bluegrass and country rhythms. But DNA from local predecessors such as the Byrds and other Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as ecological concerns close to those of their ancient neighbors of the Grateful Dead circa “American Beauty” (“Ballad For The Trees”) are easily identified in their genealogy (“Live And Never Learn”, “Planet Earth”). They also count in their ranks a true veteran of psychedelia in the person of the bassist Paul Marshall (ex-Strawberry Alarm Clock, where he partnered with Ed King, future Lynyrd Skynyrd). Should we see the cause of lysergic incursions such as “Stoned With Melissa” or “My Parka Saved Me”?

The general climate of “Live And Never Learn”, their eighth album, lies between Gram Parsons’ country-rock and Townes Van Zandt (“Last Man In Tujunga”, “Tearing Me In Two”), and the neo-country of Gourds (“Poour Me”) and Asleep At The Wheel (“King Of The Rosemead Boogie”). While Rob Waller is responsible for most of the lead vocals, his three accomplices turn out to be accomplished choristers (including the new drummer, Victoria Jacobs, who is also capable of singing vocals). In short, legitimate perpetuators, who do not hesitate to loosen the shackles of a genre long threatened with sclerosis.

— Patrick Dallongeville, Paris Move, Blues Magazine

L.A. RECORD REVIEWS MYSTERY DRUG

I SEE HAWKS IN L.A.: MYSTERY DRUG

November 12th, 2013 ·


Viola Tada

I See Hawks in L.A.
Mystery Drug
Western Seeds

For all the references to Gram Parsons these guys get—and for all the references to Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt they should get—I gotta put I See Hawks on this seventh album somewhere closer to Terry Allen or Warren Zevon. Hawks are literary, even though they use small words—actually cuz they use small words—and they’re at their best when they put pedal steel to short stories or sometimes just a few irreducible lines. For one example: “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cymbal From The Seventies” is about what it means to love things that are gently used, and of course they truly spell it “symbol.” But my favorites are some of the slow and sad ones on an album that’s one power-pop song (Nick Lowe-y “Local Merchants”) and about half slow and sad ones. Like the title track with lyrics that make me think of plenty of parts from Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, or “If You Remind Me,” which reminds me of Roky Erickson’s damaged “Clear Night For Love” country rock era, in which he retreated to simpler softer music probably cuz he wanted a simpler softer life. And my very favorite is “We Could All Be In Laughlin Tonight,” with the funny-but-not-funny lines about how much the Skynyrd tribute gig pays and the closer “pay the money and turn off the light / jump off the cliff and turn right.” The Hawks song that will get me forever is “Turn That Airplane Around,” and “Laughlin” isn’t that—who could handle two of those? But in “Laughlin” there’s that same sense of life and its limits, and how it feels when you feel those limits getting closer. That’s what I hear from Zevon and Allen, that’s what I read in Charles Portis, and what I think I See Hawks sees, too.
Chris Ziegler

THE ALTERNATE ROOT REVIEWS MYSTERY DRUG

I See Hawks in L.A. are California Country Rock gentlemen. They have a literary sense to their songs that equals American writers from the South (Faulkner), the West (Twain, O. Henry) and the East (Poe). Their music reflects the moods and emotions of the songs characters as much as the men behind the curtain that pulling the strings and writing the words. Mystery Drugs has an uplifting mood stitched into the album fabric as it describes the life of an aging pirate in the title track, a chance meeting with a major musical score (Rock’n’Roll Cymbal from the 70’s) and flows majestically  (“The River Knows”).
I See Hawks in L.A. follow psychedelic tradition by not following sound rules and regulations. The Hawks are a rock band with a Roots accent. Their songs are vignettes again using psychedelic rock as stage settings.  A cowpunk essay on commerce as love (“My Local Merhcants”), a classic country take on a classic rock event (“We Could All Be in Laughlin Tonight”) and a heavenly choir back-up for a diatribe on driving the 405 at 6 o’clock (“Stop Driving Like An Asshole”) all share Mystery Drugs. I See Hawks in L.A. remind us of the romance of the American West. “Sky Island” follows a San Joaquin daughter as she heads down the 99 for freedom and “Oklahoma’s Going Dry” looks through the dust and Commanche ghosts to try and locate the river that run blue, then red.  Memories follow a young San Franciscan couple through The Mission and watch as the snow falls outside through the windows of a Tahoe casino in “If You Remind”. The track opens Mystery Drugs and will immediately remind you that it is way too long between I See Hawks in L.A. releases.
Listen and buy the music of I See Hawks in L.A. from AMAZON or iTunes

TWANGVILLE REVIEWS MYSTERY DRUG

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by  in Alt-CountryAmericanaCountryReviews

The bright orange celestial flame that starts out in Santa Monica so clear and defining of Southern California becomes  a dull rust glaring off the mix of smog and sooty bumpers by the time you get to San Bernardino.  While the lucky few stroll with the kids and dog through the manicured streets of Pali, the vast majority of Angelenos are commuting to the weekend.  Escape means a liquor soaked Saturday night at the craps table in Sin City or 2 1/2 days with the family in an overpriced Lake rental last remodeled in 1982, wondering what happened to the dream.  If the Eagles in their Hotel California heyday represented the picture everyone believed, I See Hawks In L.A document the reality of the 99%, set to a soundtrack of weeping guitars and three part harmonies.

Their seventh album, Mystery Drug, follows a theme they’re adept at producing.  It’s a mix of reality TV stories culled from their own lives and elevated love songs imbued with a thread of melancholy.  In the former category the winner on this record is no doubt We Could All Be In Laughlin Tonight.  If you ever wanted to know the story of how a musician pays his dues, here it is in 4 minutes and 8 seconds.  There’s also Rock ‘n’ Roll Cymbal From the Seventies that captures the mindset of collectors everywhere.  And I have to give a shout out to my wife’s new favorite song, Stop Driving Like An Asshole: “you’re an accident waiting to happen/a flipped over SUV/on the 405 at 6 o’clock/your carcass on TV”.

MD_Cover

In the latter category is Yesterday’s Coffee, a bittersweet melody about getting to the point where you just hope “good enough” will bring her back.  If You Remind Me is a love story that starts with kids on a bike and goes a lifetime to the point when love and friendship is indistinguishable.  The opening cut, Oklahoma’s Going Dry isn’t a love song in the traditional sense, but rather one of our ancestors loving what we’ve now destroyed.

The Hawks are an L.A. country rock band, in an era that doesn’t have many of those left.  You can argue country rock started in the 70′s with the hippies in the canyons west of Los Angeles high on nature and homegrown weed.  Today it’s more aligned with a struggling middle class in the eastern suburbs where meth is the cheapest option.  But we’re an irrepressible lot and we take our victories where we find them.  I See Hawks In L.A. seem to know that, and with their harmonies and story-telling it’s easy to listen to a few of the tunes on Mystery Drug and find yourself with a nice little high.

 

L.A. CITY BEAT: MYSTERY DRUG DELIVERS ELECTRIC HIGH

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by John Collison

I See Hawks in LA’s newest release Mystery Drug is an outstanding collection of songs continuing the veteran Los Angeles group’s brand of traditional country music.  Thirteen tunes explore urban, rural and personal themes that capture Southern California’scontradicting cultures and landscapes.  Mystery Drug takes effect within the first three notes of the album’s opening track Oklahoma’s Going Dry; Rob Waller’s warm, comforting voice and Rick Shea’s  pedal steel guitar ease the mind and comfort the soul.  I See Hawks’ seventh release marks a return to electric music after 2012’s acoustic New Kind of Lonely.  Waller’s and Paul Lacques’ blend of acoustic and electric guitars and harmonies are seamless, creating rich sonic textures adorned with pedal steel and accordion.  If You Remind Me, Mystery Drug and Yesterday’s Coffee are introspective reaches into the psyche of love, acceptance and existence.  Beauty of the Better States, Rock and Roll Cymbal From the Seventies and My Local Merchants are dedicated rockers.  The latter song hints that I See Hawks and Mystery Drug could be a co-op with no less than nine musicians, including Lacques’ brother Anthony and wife Victoria Jacobs, complementing the band’s core membership of Waller, Lacques and veteran bassist Paul Marshall (Strawberry Alarm Clock).   Mystery Drug elicits a chortle withStop Driving Like an Asshole, a ditty that takes karmic joy in the accident of a speeding SUV-  “And the angels did sing: sha la la la, he drove like an asshole.” This song is the frosting on this album’s cake.   Mystery Drug is no mystery; it is the soulfulness of a veteran band performing their finest music.

I See Hawks in LA recently returned from an 8-week tour of Europe and a string of shows along the west coast.  They will perform at McCabe’s Guitar shop on Sunday, August 18 as part of a release party for Mystery Drug. If you are fan of roots, traditional country, or Flying Burrito Brothers/Graham Parsons, you should not miss this show.

Mystery Drug is available on itunes and directly from the I See Hawks in LA website.  McCabe’s Guitar Shop is located at 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405

Review: Stevie Wonder caps grand night of Los Angeles music downtown

By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
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7:29 AM PDT, August 4, 2013

Like the nebulous boundaries of Los Angeles itself, encircling the city’s musical sound can be tricky business. There are the vibrations of surf and mariachi music, the crawl of Compton G-funk and laid-back ’50s cool jazz, Mexican boleros and the ladies (and men) of the canyon, along with K-town K-pop and the rush of Hollywood punk. Around every corner a new rhythm, a fresh melodic burst born under the California sun.

It’s a sound that’s virtually impossible to put onto one stage, but on Friday night archetypal East L.A. band Ozomatli and fellow artists at Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles took a stab at it.

By resurrecting age-old songs about Southern California and weaving in more recent but no less revealing odes to the area — including punk band X’s “Los Angeles” and Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” — musicians illustrated the breadth of the region’s experience in the open-air California Plaza.

They were celebrating the publication of writer and USC professor Josh Kun’s new book in conjunction with the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, “Songs in the Key of L.A.” Along with a few dozen musicians including La Santa Cecilia, Jackson Browne and the Petrojvic Blasting Company, Ozomatli brought to life songs, many from the sheet music collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, that have helped define the region.

Oh, then Stevie Wonder showed up and surprised a thrilled plaza with an electrifying version of his seldom performed ode to the city, “Land of La La.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because even before his arrival, the night had seen its share of peaks, mostly due to Ozomatli’s adept work along with pianist-arranger Rob Gonzalez in giving these songs air. For decades this music lived as notation on printed pages filed within the library’s voluminous holdings, many never recorded. You couldn’t tell that on Friday.

Ozo, born as a politically active musical collective that hybridized the sound of urban L.A. starting in the mid-’90s, began the evening with its own love letter to Los Angeles, “City of Angels,” and from there, a musical wormhole opened and the artists and the thousands surrounding them descended into a cobwebbed realm of once-dusty melodies. By the end of the evening these works had rejoiced in the glow of the Southern California present.

A versatile, expert band, Ozo illustrated its range throughout the evening. For a cool jazz take on “I Love You California,” a song penned in 1908 by F.B. Silverwood and A.F. Frankenstein, vocalist Asdru Sierra (who confessed to having a few overdue books) conjured the spirit of Chet Baker with both his croon and an elegant trumpet solo. If you closed your eyes this could have been the Haig, the early ’50s jazz club where, a few dozen blocks west on Wilshire Boulevard, Mulligan and Baker helped birth a West Coast sound.

L.A. country band I See Hawks in L.A.’s rendition of “In the Valley of the San Joaquin,” was polished with the chrome tone of the lap pedal steel guitar. Jackson Browne’s take on the classic L.A. story of “Ramona” brought in a touch of Laurel Canyon folk rock. The artist raised in Highland Park offered his own ode to an area locale with “Culver Moon,” which celebrated a town “about five miles from where the Lakers play.”

It was also a night in which Cheech Marin arrived to sing his funny love letter to his home, “Born in East L.A.,” about a Mexican American resident who while taking a walk to the grocery store gets detained by immigration cops and “deported” from East L.A. to Tijuana.

Tijuana-Angeleno singer Ceci Bastida, with Ozo backing, conjured from the past “El Quelele,” an age-old Mexican ballad published in a 1923 collection called “Spanish Songs of Old California.” She and the band followed that with “Los Angeles,” the 1979 burst of Cali punk rock by X. “She gets confused flying over the dateline!” screamed Bastida.

Those who frequent the city’s farmers markets might have recognized the Petrojvic Blasting Company, the Slavic brass, accordion and drum group that overjoys many a morning shopper with their busking. The group’s take on “Strolling With the California Moon” started off surprisingly weak, but erupted into full-on joy when brass and drums kicked in halfway through, sending ripples across the pond as the plaza’s fountains pumped bursts of water into the sky.

“Chiapanecas” was a song published by a Mexican restaurant on Olvera Street, explained singer La Marisoul of La Santa Cecilia. In choosing it, she said, she was connecting with her own youth performing in the same neighborhood nearly a century after the song was written. She and the band brought to vivid life the music — and accordionist Jose Carlos earned big applause with his work on the crucial Los Angeles instrument.

All evening Kun and others had been teasing a “surprise guest.” Predictably, when Wonder’s name was announced, the plaza erupted. After a gentle, solo take on his “Overjoyed,” which had many rustling for their smartphones and pointing in his direction, Wonder introduced another song from his 1985 album “In Square Circle.”

“Land of La La” tells the classic L.A. story of those looking to reinvent themselves in “the land of la la.” Why? Because “being in La La Land is like nowhere else,” he sang, pounding out synth clusters alone on his keys. Halfway through, Ozomatli reconvened onstage and gradually lifted the song through percussive, tight funk in support while Wonder spotlighted “a land full of lost angels/Movie stars and great big cars and Perrier and fun all day/And that’s enough to make anybody go wild.”

At the conclusion, Ozomatli ripped into its high-energy jam “Como Ves,” and Wonder stayed with the band, with big electric piano chords and a solo — the guys in Ozomatli looking equally thrilled and awestruck. As he played, Wonder was handed a harmonica and he went into a solo.

Slowly, he morphed the harmonica melody into “La Bamba” as the band and most of the musicians from throughout the night eased onto the stage to bond, celebrate and sing with Wonder. It was a truly memorable moment, one that many in attendance won’t forget.

In fact, Wonder should think seriously about a collaboration with Ozomatli. The team sounded amazing together, like they’d been jamming for years.

Even more, not only did Wonder lift Ozomatli but just as impressive Ozomatli propelled Wonder into one of the rare musical realms he’s yet to explore.

Few are the musical experiences that you can safely say, “this is a night I’ll remember the rest of my life.” But that performance of Wonder’s “Land of La La” made a huge dent.

Equally special though was sharing an evening not only with living Angelenos of all shapes and sizes, but with voices from the past. Brought to life to sing the praises of Southern California, their spirit rushed forth through the time-traveling magic of music.