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.”