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!
The alternative folk/ country Americana world would be a darker place without I See Hawks In L.A. – it’s unlikely that anyone else could deliver their tight harmony vocals, skilled musicianship, inspired melodies and richly hooked, eminently memorable songs – and their latest outing ‘Live And Never learn’ is the band on top form on all counts.
The raw honestyremains, as do the songs that effortlessly touch those heart and soul parts of their listeners that consistently bring them closer to the depths of the messages.
The human problems that life throws up and that everyone faces from time to time weave their way through the lyrics, from the title track ‘Live And Never Learn’ through ‘White Cross’ to ‘Stoned With Melissa’ and ‘The Last Man in Tujunga’ there’s a visceral edge that quite simply pulls you into their songs. It’s inevitable that ‘favorites’ get a mention in any review – for me ‘Ballad For The Trees’ is up there, as is ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘The Isolation Mountains’.
Playing on ‘Live and Never learn’ are Rob Waller (lead vocal, acoustic guitar) Paul Laques (guitars, vocal, lap steel) Paul Marshall (bass, vocals) Victoria Jacobs (drums, vocal) with Richie Lawrence (accordion, piano) Dave Markowitz (fiddle) Danny McGough (organ, synth) and Dave Zirbel (pedal steel).
This ‘I See Hawks In L.A.’ is one of the most underrated bands in California. This Alt-country was founded in Los Angeles in 1999 by Rob Waller and the brothers Paul and Anthony Lacques. Their sound is characterized by harmony vocals and the playing of acoustic instruments and should not have been the ‘eagles’ these ‘I See Hawks In L.A.’ perhaps that world group. Of course we know them from their self-titled debut album from 1999 with Dave Alvin and Dwight Yoakam. The albums like ‘Shoulda Been Gold’ (2010) and ‘Hallowed Ground’ (2008) were also very popular. Regularly their songs land in the country charts and they were mentioned several times as ‘Best Country Artist’ in LA Weekly.
Their music is and remains always fascinating and honest and so we are glad that we can now listen to their latest album ‘Live and Never Learn’. Their previous ‘Mistery Drug’ is already 5 years old. On this new album we find 14 originals and they appeal to guest musicians like Richie Lawrence on accordion and piano, Dave Markowitz on fiddle, Danny McGough on organ and synthesizer and Dave Zirbel on pedal steel.
Most songs were written by the combination of Paul Lacques, who also produced, and Rob Waller. The daily problems in the lives of the various band members were an inspiration for writing new material. Numbers where the quality always comes to take the upper hand. Songs in which the humor of this ‘I See Hawks in L.A’ usually obscures the reality such as ‘My Parka Saved Me’ in which drummer Victoria Jacobs tells the true story of a car accident that she suffered as a teenager.
‘The Last Man in Tujunga’ is again the story when band member Paul Marshall had to evacuate his home during the Californian wildfire in 2017. ‘White Cross’ and ‘Singing in The Wind’ are songs that show the personification of these ‘Hawks’. Songs with high melodies. A bit like the Eagles did at the time that does not mean that you have this ‘I See Hawks In L.A.’ to identify with it.
‘King Of The Rosemead Boogie’ is the pepper and salt on this beautiful album, where they clearly choose the country-folk side with songs like ‘Poour Me’ and ‘The Isolation Mountains’. They end with the Americana flavored ‘Stop Me’, something they do not have to do for me.
“Ballad For the Trees” is a premiere release from I See Hawks in LA’s forthcoming album Live and Never Learn, due for June 29. I See Hawks in LA is Rob Waller, Paul Lacques, drummer Victoria Jacobs, and Paul Marshall on bass. Several members of the band have struggled with heavy personal loss over the past couple of years. So this album, in general, confronts and highlights these difficult themes lyrically, while providing first rate music to buoy us through the tough times. “Ballad For The Trees” is a song from that project that pays homage to nature and the poignant struggle to guard our environment. But more than that, it manages to gather up our emotions to recall our deep-seated need for solitude and contextualization within nature, a need that often goes unmet nowadays. In this era of omnipresent technology, they present us with an option: “here’s a song for the Acacia, here’s a song for the honeybees.”
Lacques has this to say about the song.
Ballad For The Trees (5:33) “A slowly unwinding Fleetwood Mac (yes) reminiscence, rocking lament on the massive distraction and distortion of our digital lives as our planet enters emergency time; but it’s very catchy. And who doesn’t love trees? Here’s a song for the Acacia. Perhaps it’s time to turn our faces away from our phones and the infinite reflections of our silly selves and look up to the tall quiet trees swaying wisely above.” —Paul Lacques of ISHILA
Live and Never Learn, the eighth album from these California Country rock ‘n’ rollers is a wonderful treat for both the ears and the soul. I’ve previously heard comparisons to that other west coast band, the Eagles, but I don’t hear it here. The Hawks are fearless where the Eagles take it easy, and their harmonies take more from doo-wop and bar-room country than, say CSN&Y. The Hawks could easily accomplish musically the Eagles sound, but they’re smarter than that, they take more chances, their sense of humor is near boundless. A case in point: The Eagles would never, could never, create such songs as “Ballad for the Trees,” “The Last Man in Tujunga,” or especially the wonderful, hilarious, and all-important “My Parka Saved Me,” which I’m going to go ahead and say is most likely the best song of 2018 so far. Seriously. We’ll come back to that in a moment, first, the rest of the album.
Novelty songs have long been a rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Remember “Flying Saucer Rock and Roll,” “Splish Splash,” or “Purple People Eater”? Yeah, novelty crap humor; but they rocked. This is important. “Wooly Bully” rocked. “I Put a Spell on You” rocked. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to accomplish. One wrong turn at Albuquerque and suddenly you’re in “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” or “The Chipmunk Song” territory. Humor in rock ‘n’ roll is important and vital. Otherwise everything is Pink Floyd and the National—fine bands yet not what you go after when you want a rollicking and fun trip. And humor is something the Hawks seem to have no short supply of, from the way Robert Waller’s vocal on “Last Man in Tujunga” rapidly descends on the word “collapsing,” stretching it out further than any fully sane singer would ever attempt—but it works, the song needs it to be effective—to the utter lack of any sense of irony on many of these songs. They play it straight, knowing full well how to milk the laughs with a poker face. Smart, humorous lyrics and quick asides from the band such as they way the charge into a single bar of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” right in the middle of “Tujunga” and then continue on as if nothing happened, or the way the pedal steel supports the vocal in “Poour Me,” adding more layers to this wonderful tale of woe.
On several of these songs the Hawks, with Rob Waller’s river bottom vocals and the band’s inherent quirkiness, are reminiscent of the Handsome Family, yet the Handsome Family never rocked this hard, especially on “Stoned with Melissa” which is a fast-paced rocker that starts out making you laugh but takes a sudden turn down a dark alley. Life’s not all fun and games and the Hawks know this, even if it gives them pause to wonder why at times. “Spinning” is dreamy Alt-psychedelia, while “King of the Rosemead Boogie” is a barn spinner of an uptempo blues, and the title song, “Live and Never Learn,” is smooth, smooth Country. The Hawks are all over the map, yet fully in sync, the songs never sounding forced or contrived.
And now we get to “My Parka Saved Me.” Every great album needs a song worthy of putting on repeat and this is the one. We start off with the band opening the door for the organ swells which bring us right in to a rather funny and also rather harrowing true story narrated by the band’s drummer, Victoria Jacobs, in a voice sublimely caught somewhere between the Mid-West and Valley Girl: She got high. She broke up with her boyfriend. She went for a drive down to the lake. The lake was frozen and there was lots of snow. Suddenly, a drunk driver hits her and she “spun like a donut! There was glass everywhere!” All this backed perfectly by the band in a sawdust floor bar-room band manner while a countrified doo-wop section plays the part of Greek chorus, repeating her story line by line in a perfect straight-man sort of way. No time for irony here, just the facts, ma’am. Jacobs’ story continues as she parries back and forth with the band as they break out and begin to embellish on her tale. “That’s not true!” she regales them, but they continue on unabated, facts and memories now distorting into one another as the song and story continues on with a catchy refrain and a wonderful keyboard backdrop, which works very much like Al Kooper’s organ on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” in that it percolates and bubbles throughout, creating even more interest, drawing the listener in.
This is an amazing song and indeed, album. All the disparate parts fit together wonderfully, telling a story that is tragic, comical, and all too true, in a way only a band as brilliant and as fearless as I See Hawks in L.A. can.
Review courtesy The American Magpie…..the Legendary Roy Peak.
Released June 29th 2018
The Roots scene in Los Angeles for almost sixty years has been one of the most vibrant and vibrant cornerstones of attraction in America. In the warm Californian sun, generations of musicians have matured and they have been able to unite with great skill country, folk and bluegrass with rock, opening often unusual ways and experimenting with brilliance those sounds. I See Hawks In L.A. Since 1999, they have been among the best flag-bearers of the bonds between rock and country music, with eight discs of assets that refer to the golden years (between sixty and seventy) of Westcoastian music. Personally, their approach often reminds me of the first New Riders Of The Purple Sage, those who, under the aegis of Jerry Garcia, a great fan of country and bluegrass, added their personal touch of rock and soul (from Bo Diddley to Johnny Otis) and a pinch of psychedelia to flavor everything. Rob Waller and Paul Lacques are at the helm of the band from its beginnings and over the years have kept straight the bar never renouncing to compose excellent country songs forming a repertoire very pleasant and very consistent. The guitarists of the two leaders are joined by bassist Paul Marshall and drummer Victoria Jacobs in a compact and cohesive quartet to which they give a hand in these sessions the talented Richie Lawrence on keyboards, Dave Zirbel that with his pedal steel retraces the deeds of the great Buddy Cage (from the New Riders) and Dave Markowitz on the fiddle. “Live And Never Learn” is a record full of excellent country songs like the song that gives the title to the album, “Poor Me”, “The Last Man In Tujunga” and “White Cross” in particular, a poker d ‘ axes that nobility the record, with the great love for the environment of “Ballad For The Trees” and “Planet Earth”, rock and psychedelic that follow one another in the funny “Stoned With Melissa”, the delicate and poetic “The Isolation Mountains “and the nostalgic” Stop Me “, gems of a selection that confirms I See Hawks In LA among the most valid independent roots bands. And what a name! Remo Ricaldone
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
- Ballad For The Trees
- Live And Never Learn
- White Cross
- Stoned With Melissa
- Poour Me
- Planet Earth
- The Last Man In Tujunga
- Singing In The Wind
- My Parka Saved Me
- King Of The Rosemead Boogie
- Tearing Me In Two
- The Isolation Mountains
- Stop Me
Live And Never Learn is scheduled to be released on June 29, 2018.
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
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