Best Country Group
I See Hawks In L.A. are a house band of the Hippie diaspora. Twenty years and eight albums on (with a ninth en route), the country-rock quartet has supplied pot anthems (“Humboldt”), political profiles in courage (“Byrd From West Virginia”) and ecological laments (theme song “I See Hawks In L.A.”). Baritone lead singer Rob Waller and virtuosic string slinger Paul Lacques scribe these literate, pointed contemporary classics, while drummer Victoria Jacobs contributed the loopy hoot “My Parka Saved Me.” With bassist Paul Marshall, the front line’s close harmony is reminiscent of The Byrds — both flocks being rootsy and psychedelic avian-christened Los Angeles-based freaks. —Michael Simmons
by Randall Roberts
Los Angeles Times
July 19, 2018
I See Hawks in L.A., “Live and Never Learn” (Western Seeds Record Company). Within the first two verses of this longtime twang band’s eighth studio album, singer-guitarist Rob Waller has asked some big questions about contemporary America, and has done so through a genre — guitar-driven country rock — that hasn’t changed much since the Nixon presidency.
After noting in opening song “Ballad for the Trees” that that “every age is without precedent,” Waller wonders whether “we’ve broken with how to be alone,” and asks, “Are we drowning in the sea/ Of facts that come too easily/ And friends we never see?”
Perhaps, but if so, Waller and band don’t dwell on it. Across the 14 songs on “Live and Never Learn,” I See Hawks in L.A. touch on less heady themes such as smoking weed in a basement while watching the Eddie Murphy movie “Trading Places” on a black-and-white TV; smoking weed after a breakup with someone who then becomes a born-again Christian; taking speed and listening to country music; and a titular “King of the Rosemead Boogie,” who “hocked himself a loogie” that he “spit in the air just like he didn’t care” — and then consumed a cocktail of “two Jacks and one toke, some shatter and some coke” and “a capacity of dope.”
Trouble? Waller, co-founding electric guitarist Paul Lacques and the rhythm section of Paul Marshall (bass) and and Victoria Jacobs (drums) seem to know its contours. Even when Waller tries to convey sunshine, it comes at a price. The final song, “Stop Me,” finds his narrator staring at the sun because it’s so beautiful, unable to look away and begging for help.
He runs a parallel idea on songwriting in the next verse. “Stop me, I’ve been singing on this street for too long/ Trying to find my way to a beautiful song.” As if he’s helpless, the artist seems to rail against a muse that produces regardless of outcome — “staring into the sun/ This used to be fun/ I’m starting to believe/ there’s no prize to be won.”
I See Hawks In LA, The Green Note, London, 19th July 2018
I See Hawks In LA opened their extensive UK tour with this sold out performance at London’s Green Note, and were in fine form. Playing as a four piece and “acoustic” with Paul Lacques on lead guitar, Victoria Jacobs on snare drum and tiny cymbal, Rob Waller on guitar and lead vocals and Paul Marshall the one exception to the acoustic rule by playing electric bass. They began their first set with a song that really tells you all you need to know about I See Hawks In LA – ‘Raised by Hippies‘.
It’s a celebration of a woman who was born on an old school bus after the Summer Of Love, and who, despite going out into the world when older, is never broken down by the constraints of the world to abandon a faith in what’s important in life – people, love, caring. Sounds heavy – but it isn’t; it’s beautifully crafted, like all I See Hawks In LA songs, there’s a common clinging to a world view that is about more than greed and spite. And if there’s something wrong with that then we’ll need a written counter-argument with diagrams. It’s not a naive song – Rob Waller acknowledges that the parents “did some things wrong” before adding “but they raised their children right / and they did it for a song“. It’s a sentiment that reappears on ‘Tearing me in too‘ which Rob wryly introduces as being about those feelings “when you’re out on the road playing music – but you miss your family, although sometimes you’re with your children and….you really want to be playing music.” The eternal dichotomy of dual loves. It’s a song, like many others, that is taken from the band’s new album ‘Live and Never Learn‘ – which is another excellent collection.
All through the set Paul Lacques adds wonderful guitar solos that lift lightly from the ground, whilst Paul Marshall keeps everything grounded with his discretely interjecting bass and Victoria Jacobs performs literal miracles of brushed drumming with her instrument – one can’t really raise a single snare to the heady heights of being a drum kit. Despite all this, there are occasional claims in the first set of moments of synchronised jet lag – the Hawks had only landed in the UK the day before – and these claims are repeated in the interval as the band hang-out and chat relaxedly with the audience. But if this is truly I See Hawks In LA slightly sub-par then no-one but the band could tell. The first set had slipped by in a dreamy flash, with a glorious ‘I Fell in Love with the Grateful Dead‘ closing it out. It’s a great song of a Dead-Head’s adventures, taking to the trail and following Gerry and the band across the States and on to Europe. It’s not nostalgia – it’s just the retelling of a great musical quest, vegetarian food and the bonds of friendship in a loose community.
There’s a similar feeling of a happy retelling on ‘Good andFoolish Times’ which jounces along like a battered vehicle driven just a little too fast down a dusty side road as Rob Waller sings “Didn’t we have some good times ? / some good and foolish times ? / Didn’t we have some good and foolish times ? / Didn’t we take some long rides / some long and winding rides?” and the band harmonise behind him.
The second set was geared a little more towards the higher tempo and rocky reaches of I See Hawks In LA output. ‘Humboldt‘ is a road trip for not strictly legal purposes song which pounds along down the freeways with Paul Laques’ guitar just burning higher and higher. If this was a fist-pumping audience then fists would have been pumped. There’s a swinging ‘Live and Never Learn‘ which beats along like a train down a track whilst pointing out how unlikely it is that unthinking and foolish behaviour will ever stop being foolish and unthinking. Ultimately the futility is self-deprecatingly spelt out: “every slight, every way I treated her unkind, every promise I knew I’d break, every friend looks the other way, every leap I never took”.
In the first set ‘California Country‘ had been virtually a description of the sound of I See Hawks In LA – there’s country in the mix but it’s really country influenced rock, steering tonight towards an acoustic set from that inspiring band The Grateful Dead. There’s the same kind of mix of lyrical wonder and the really small parts of life that are maybe the most important parts as well. It’s not, though, the totality of their sound – Paul Marshall took lead vocal duties for a straight country ballad ‘Truth is – you lied‘ whilst Rob and Victoria take call and response turns to tell the story of a bad car crash on the folky meets soul ‘My parka‘. This is a song that gets laughs – especially when Rob Waller’s fantasy that the liquor store owning drunk driver who hit Victoria Jacobs is struck with remorse and hands out free booze to her “all through high school.” This is slapped down with “hey Bob, that never happened.” This, though, is not the heart of the song, amusing as it is, but this is the true nugget: “my parents came to the Emergency Room and when they took my parka off chunks of glass fell out onto the floor / and my Dad burst into tears…and that’s when I knew he loved me.” Heart and family.
Wry humour, great music, unabashed joy of living, lovely harmony singing, foolishness, environmental concerns and the hazards of love – the upsides and the downsides of caring about someone. That’s what a couple of hours in the company of I See Hawks In LA is about. They have a long road ahead of them in July and August; it’s doubtful if they’ll reach the end with any T-Shirts or CDs left; they may even be a bit more battered – but triumphant as well. There is surely no better time to get out and see I See Hawks In LA.
“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