I See Hawks in L.A., On Your Way. There were the Byrds, then the Flying Burritos and a few other notable music excursions emanating from Los Angeles in the 1960s into the ’70s that really paved the road for those who followed in that Southern California realm, but no other band has found the thread like I See Hawks in L.A. Their sound might be embedded in the Hollywood Freeway, but underneath it’s really torqued by the Mojave Desert. There is something just hallucinatory enough on new songs like “Might’ve Been Me,” “Know Just What to Do” and, really, everything on this ear-opening new album that it feels like a new day of music is rising. Band members Rob Waller and brothers Paul and Anthony Lacques formed the group going on 20 years ago, of course on a desert trek, and haven’t looked back. Now featuring Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs as the rhythm section, there is really no one like them, still, as they mix in visions and musical veracity into a style which opens a door full of surprises right below the surface. As each album has become more and more assured, I See Hawks in L.A. has now hit that point where they’ve cut the cord on influences and are spinning out in an orbit all their own. The quartet is all breathing as one, and the clear night sky full of stars is the limit. Listen and hear not only what has come before, but what is also right around the next bend. See the Hawks.
One of Southern California’s leading alt country bands, I See Hawks in LA return with their tenth album to date, On Our Way, which is also the band’s first post-pandemic album. Detailing a band’s lockdown practices and procedures is becoming almost obligatory in light of recent events, yet each circumstance is slightly different. In the case of this band, Rob Waller and Paul Lacques would keep to a strict weekly songwriting schedule, adopting to Facetime one another at 4pm prompt every Friday afternoon, which seems to have done the trick. With further assistance from band mates Victoria Jacobs and Paul Marshall, On Our Way has been developed under extraordinary circumstances, yet the results are probably better than expected. Rather than focusing on the current crisis, the band turned to history for inspiration, honing in on such figures as Geronimo and Muhammad Ali, not to mention the odd Kentucky Jesus, who ‘knocked the Devil to the floor’ at one point. Stylistically the band keep pretty much to their alt country, Americana and folk rock roots, with some occasional driving rhythms, gutsy blues and renegade lyricism to keep their fans happy. The album also contains a song with a setting a few thousand miles from home, with “Kensington Market” adopting a pop sensibility that wouldn’t be too far out of place on some vintage ‘Swinging Sixties’ radio show. I See Hawks in LA can be diverse when the mood takes them evidently. On the subject of the old wireless, “Radio Keeps Me on the Ground (Slight Return)”, is a fine homage to those who have managed to keep us entertained during an unprecedented lockdown period. Radio shows and online podcasts have certainly kept a good few of us on the ground over the last eighteen months. The sprawling eight minutes of “How You Gonna Know” completes the album, where the band engage in some funky Doors-like experimental rhythms to keep us on our toes.
Kensington Market is included in this week’s Vaults radio show.
There is something special about I See Hawks In LA, and I don’t mean the fact that they’re a rather fine americana band. I wouldn’t be discussing their work here if I didn’t think they were. But the thing is, no matter what record you pick from their seven album discography – or is it eight? – time and again there’s this sense of warmth and conviviality just radiating from it all. Not that they’re a party outfit – on the contrary, their arrangements often require close attention – but even more than many of their colleagues from the folk and americana world, this band always makes you feel like they’ve just popped over to your place for an impromptu jam session. Their latest release On Our Way yet again captures that cosy atmosphere very well.
And that’s quite an accomplishment, because this record was created during the first phase of the corona pandemic, while the band was adhering to all the rules regarding social distancing and self-isolation. What sounds like a band playing live in the studio – almost a pre-requisite within the genre – is in reality a digital collage of parts recorded separately from each other. And that doesn’t just include the band itself, but also a whole platoon of guest musicians. The rather outstanding quality of the songs as such doesn’t hurt either, of course. But whether it’s the relaxed country of the title track, somewhat reminiscent of the late Glen Campbell, and tracks like Kentucky Jesus and If I Move, or slightly more experimental tracks like Mississippi Gas Station Blues and Kensington Market, the quartet has absolutely succeeded in matching the spontaneity of their earlier work, thanks to the miracle of modern technology.
Google-translated from Italian
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More than twenty years together, twenty years of sharing, of love for the roots, for those sounds warmed by the Californian sun that represented a breath of fresh air and good vibrations. I See Hawks In L.A. they return with a new album to reiterate how close they still are and how their captivating and fresh mix of country music, folk and American is always as simple as it is effective. The guitars of Rob Waller and Paul Lacques, the bass of Paul Marshall and the percussion of Victoria Jacobs, their songs, their musical visions are a true ode to their land and in many songs they do not disdain deep reflections on the times we are living. , on environmental emergencies and social issues, celebrating again the many miles traveled together and the multiple influences dictated by sharing the stages with people like Chris Hillman, Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Lucinda Williams and Ray Wylie Hubbard, all, in a one way or another, inspiring what their current sound is. An inevitable pinch of psychedelia pervades some of the songs of "On Our Way", as well as solid are the reminiscences related to a rough and dirty roots-rock a la Dave Alvin in the abrasive "Mississippi Gas Station Blues". Often there are 'sixties' inflections as in "Kensington Market" in which vocal space is given to Victoria Jacobs while to embellish the arrangements there are here and there the fiddle of Brantley Kearns, veteran of a thousand sessions, the accordion of Richie Lawrence and the pedal steel by Dave Zirbel, protagonist of the splendid “Geronimo”, immersed in its fascinating western atmosphere. However, there are many moments to be mentioned such as the initial "Might've Been Me" and its acoustic plots, "Kentucky Jesus", intense and poetic, "Stealing" whose melody lazily rests on the Californian sea, "If I Move ”Which refers to the past Westcoastian seasons between country and rock as well as the title track“ On Our Way ”which retraces the paths taken by the Byrds most closely tied to their roots. A record that confirms the goodness of the proposal of a band that undaunted continues a genuine and sincere musical and human journey, a journey between the ocean and the desert that continues to bewitch those who loved the mix of roots and the most contemporary sounds and continue to do so despite everything. Remo Ricaldone
Google-translated from Dutch
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Americana, folk rock, alto. country. They are wonderful labels for a group's music. Moreover, they are recognizable labels for the curious listener. Every release of the foursome in I See Hawks In L.A. is recognizable for that reason and is received with cheers by the enthusiast. Paul and Anthony Lacques, Victoria Jacobs and Rob Waller are much more than musicians. In 1999, I See Hawks In L.A. was founded. After a meeting in the Eastern Mojave desert and after many discussions about philosophy, environment and politics, the foursome decided to make music together. These are the themes that come up in the lyrics of the band. The self-titled debut appeared in 1999. On Our Way will be the tenth album in 2021. In February 2020, I See Hawks In L.A. played a set at Wonder Valley Festival. The group members traveled home and were told to stay there. The pandemic! After the initial shock, the four musicians decided to get to work. Social media sometimes slows down ideas and fragments of songs, but with enough patience, eleven tracks were created for a new long player. Composers Rob Waller and Paul Lacques sat in front of the computer screen every Friday. Drummer Victoria Jacobs regularly joined in and provided input. We cranked out an albums worth of songs, said Waller. I See Hawks In L.A. have been making music for much longer than twenty years, and with On Our Way too, the listener is given enough to think about. Mississippi Gas Station Blues is not only a blues track that starts with drummer Jacobs, but it is also a song in which the grotesque, consumptive gas consumption in America is sung and condemned. In Kentucky Jesus, the choice between religion and the military is denounced. I See Hawks In L.A. gently stirs America's meddling in problems beyond its borders. On Our way has eleven songs for forty-eight minutes and twenty-one seconds of music. This tenth long player from a group that has scored well with critics and enthusiasts for years is a highlight in a growing oeuvre. For lovers of folk, rock and alto. country, looking for bands with the same labels, every release of I See Hawks In L.A. is a good entry point to a pleasant acquaintance. On Our Way is the next, provisional highlight in the series. (Western Seed Records)
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Recorded as individual parts and then woven together during lockdown, the Hawks return with their tenth album, one that takes their established social and eco commentaries and ups the ante in the wake of global crises of a pandemic and a political nature.
Dave Zirbel on pedal steel, it kicks off in jangly mandolin-led cosmic country style with ‘Might’ve Been Me’, about a fair and barefoot Sonoma wicca practitioner working her magic on the narrator (“She says I’m her apprentice/And yesterday she sent me/To gather bitter greens from your backyard”), keeping a Byrdsian 12-string feel for the title track, a song keening to rebirth and hope (“I don’t know/If the spring is coming/All I know is I’m on my way”).
One of the longest tracks at over six-minutes, coloured with backward guitar, caterwauling fiddle and accordion, ‘Know Just What To Do’ takes a psychedelic path for its intro before transmuting into an acoustic strummed waltztime ballad (albeit with diversion into raga midway) that, a kind of love song, again seems to be about finding direction again after feeling lost (“I walked outside, started to drive/Never wondering where I’d go/Let my hands fall off of the wheel”) by essentially surrendering to whatever forces are guiding (“When I saw your window felled up with light/I knew what I was doing had to be right”).
Things get musically dirtier with ‘Mississippi Gas Station Blues’, a lurching swamp rocker that channels Jim Morrison with its semi-spoken delivery and Dylan in the lyrics
(“You give me the Oxford Mississippi secondary gas station blues/You don’t have to love me/ But you’re gonna have to choose”) backed by hollow drums, organ and a scuzzy guitar. Musicologists will also note a reference to Morton Subotnick, the 60s pioneer of electronic music who composed ‘Silver Apples of the Moon’.
Drummer Victoria Jacobs steps up the microphone to sing lead on her self-penned ‘Kensington Market’ as they take off for 80s London, “the city of tea and scones” where “People stare/At your blue black plaited hair”, to “Get lost in the winding passages/ Check out all the crazy people/And take a look around”, the lyrics referencing mods and dub while the music and its dreamy vocals evoke the sound of British paisley 60s psychedelia by way of the Mamas and Papas.
Back home, tapping into political protest, the largely acoustic picked countrified and, Ron Waller’s drawl recalling Steppenwolf’s John Kay, ‘Kentucky Jesus’ recalls Muhammed Ali’s 1967 defiance of the Vietnam War draft when he refused to be inducted into the army (“He’s going to take us to the promised land/And that’s why you don’t have to go to war”), keeping country and history on the table for the loping two beat acoustic twangy and pedal steel-laced ‘Geronimo’ which has the Apache chief pondering his next move against the US Army (“I’m not retreating, I’m considering direction/Crows to the south are flying scared/Hawks rises straight, and they don’t like to do that/I see the tall stone in the sand/I’m not running, I’m not crying/I’m only bending to space and time”).
Returning to present times, again big on lap steel, another love song, ‘Stealing’ recalls Gordon Lightfoot with its folksy acoustic country rock as, contemplating the divisions wrought by politics and the pandemic, Waller sings how “Down in the city we’re all getting played” and that “We gotta learn to live together”.
Heading into the final stretch, it spreads its Byrdsian 12-string wings again with the steel-stained cosmic country of ‘If I Move’, the town’s landmarks serving a reminder of the narrator’s lost love (“Drove by the McDonalds where we decided not to get married/And the Denny’s where we said what the hell/There’s the parking lot where you told me you were pregnant”) now that she’s moved on and in with some guy in the Marina and he’s sitting in the diner and his “dreams are in the municipal garbage can”.
Paul Marshall’s grainy nasal vocals take lead for the strummed chug of ‘Radio Keeps Me On The Ground (Slight Return)’, a co-write with Great Willow’s James Combs that pays tribute to those increasingly rare radio stations and presenters (“A stranger’s voice/An invisible wind”) that buck the homogenised trend and give you something to hold on to in uncertain times.
Opening to the sound of jews harp and Jacobs desert night drums, Waller again conjuring the peyote-fuelled Jim Morrison, it ends with the eight minute drone ‘How You Gonna Know?’ a song capturing the sense of dislocation (underscored by its drum patterns, wah wah and guitar lines) as, to a tribal rhythm, Waller says “It’s a fine line/Between transitional and occluded/Between drought and beauty/Compassion and duty/Comfort and betrayal” and how “there’s no one here to tell us what to do/We’re all on our own/And we run the ridge of juniper and snow/Just to see our tomorrows” with a prayer to “Comfort me/Comfort the children/Comfort the night/Comfort the not reconciled”. It ends, though, with a note of optimism and that, while “Love is a dirty glacier/From which all rivers flow/Flow like silver/
Sink into the inevitable/Darkening as it slows”, “Singing you just might survive/Singing you might do just fine/Singing someday you’ll drink wine”. An album to uncork and drink deep.
Michael Doherty on “On Our Way”: “Their music always seems to break whatever dark clouds might be hovering above or within”
During this crazy time, like most people, I’ve been yearning to see some live music. And one of the bands I’ve missed most is I See Hawks In L.A. Going to one of their concerts is like hanging out with your best friends. Their music always seems to break whatever dark clouds might be hovering above or within. And so this is a band I’ve wanted to turn to throughout this perverse period, when nearly half the nation is still under the spell of a crooked and racist game show host, when people refuse to trust a vaccine but have no qualms about taking medicine for de-worming horses, when twisted congressmen liken violent insurrectionists to tourists. Things are positively bizarre out there. We desperately need I See Hawks In L.A. to help balance things out. Well, these guys used the time of isolation to put together a fantastic album, On Our Way. And, yes, they did it remotely. On Our Way features all original material, and on some of these tracks the band gets some help from special guests, including Brantley Kearns and the guys from Double Naught Spy Car. The band is made up of Rob Waller on vocals, guitar and synths; Paul Lacques on guitar, lap steel, autoharp, mandolin and backing vocals; Paul Marshall on bass and vocals; and Victoria Jacobs on drums and vocals.
They open the album with a cheerful and pleasant-sounding country tune titled “Might’ve Been Me.” This is exactly what we need. This song has a familiar sense about it, like a song that is already at home in our ears, and so able to ease us away from the current troubles. Rob Waller’s vocal approach has that warm and friendly sound that makes his voice one of the absolute best in music these days. This track features some wonderful work by Dave Zirbel on pedal steel. “Don’t feel bad, he’s not mad, he’s just insane/Standing in the torrential rain.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “On Our Way,” which has an easygoing vibe. “Winter comes, and we sleep all day/I don’t know if the spring is coming/All I know is I’m on my way.” Those lines are followed by a line many of us can relate to: “Growing old and you’re waiting for wisdom.” One thing that often strikes me about these musicians is the way they seem to easily connect with their audience, and on a level that is beyond what the lyrics convey, like they’re meeting us in some unidentified and universal place that they have staked out. “All we know is we’re on our way.”
“Know Just What To Do” opens with some exciting and interesting work by Brantley Kearns on fiddle. I am always so happy to hear him play. After that, the song kind of eases in with some sweet work on acoustic guitar, and it features an absolutely beautiful vocal performance. “Stars are shining/Your love is blinding/I’m coming home to you.” This is a wonderful song, an immediate favorite of mine. There is something soothing about this song. It is such a relief to hear this music that I ended up in tears the first time I listened to this track, I don’t mind admitting. Though it is Rob Waller’s voice that is at the heart of this song, this track also features some glorious and strange instrumental sections, and I love the way things slide back into those sweeter sections from there. Richie Lawrence adds some nice work on accordion on this track. Then “Mississippi Gas Station Blues” comes on heavier. This is an unusual and surprising one, and the lines are delivered as spoken word. “You don’t have to love me, but you’re gonna have to choose/The name in my heart, the name on my chest/Is standing in the doorway, and she wants to confess.”
Victoria Jacobs takes a turn at lead vocals for “Kensington Market,” which she wrote. This is a completely enjoyable song, in large part because of Victoria’s vocal approach and style, which brings to mind certain singers of the 1960s. This is a sweet and mellow trip. It’s followed by “Kentucky Jesus,” a song about Muhammad Ali’s stance against the draft. Here are the opening lines: “He threw his medals in the river/He took on the war machine/He did not bend, in fact he floated like a bee” (the last a play on his famous line, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”). They follow that with another song about an influential figure, “Geronimo.” “I’m not retreating, I’m considering direction.” This track features more good work on pedal steel.
“Stealing” is a beautiful and gentle song that reminds me a bit of Gordon Lightfoot at moments. Old Californio’s Woody Aplanalp and Rich Dembowski join the group for this one. “Ain’t no heaven, no burning hell/Just a boat across a troubled sea with no fortune to tell.” This line also stands out: “But I don’t mind running if you’ll say you’ll run with me.” There is also some humor to this song, in the lines “Come October, we’ll be sober/Come November, we’ll remember,” which made me laugh out loud the first time I heard them. That’s followed by “If I Move,” which also shows the band’s sense of humor. Check out these lines, which opens the song: “Drove by the McDonald’s where we decided not to get married/And the Denny’s where we said what the hell/There’s the parking lot where you told me you were pregnant/I’m beginning to know this town too well.” Dave Zirbel contributes more good work on pedal steel here.
Even before its excellent and apt opening line, “It’s never been easier to lose your mind,” I am totally digging “Radio Keeps Me On The Ground,” with that cool rhythm. “There’s never been a lonelier time” is another line that speaks to our experiences during the pandemic. And soon the band promises us, “And this will pass by and by.” Ah yes, but when? Music has certainly been a key element in keeping me sane during these distressing times. Great Willow’s James Combs and Ed Barguiarena join them on this track. Then Double Naught Spy Car joins them for the album’s closing track, “How You Gonna Know?” This song’s odd and unusual opening draws me in. It has a groovy and cool beat, plus some interesting vocal work. I love how this band, after all these years, is still taking chances, and creating interesting material. And I’m looking forward to seeing them perform these songs in concert.
CD Track List
- Might’ve Been Me
- On Our Way
- Know Just What To Do
- Mississippi Gas Station Blues
- Kensington Market
- Kentucky Jesus
- If I Move
- Radio Keeps Me On The Ground
- How You Gonna Know?
On Our Way is scheduled to be released on August 27, 2021.
I See Hawks in L.A. (from the album On Our Way available on Western Seed Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Twenty years in and I See Hawks in L.A. continue to define Americana, giving a broad definition of the term. Blues, Folk and Western Roots music stand up in front of the line but I See Hawks in LA’s Americana includes Gospel, jangle, and Roots Psychedelia. Their latest in On Our Way, the record that stretches the young term that is Americana with The Hawks Cosmic Country. “Might’ve Been Me” has a mandolin heavy intro that rolls into a newgrass shuffle while the title track brings a harmony-rich Roy Orbison-influenced ballad into On Our Way. There is down tempo, Gothic folk with screeching fiddle introductions in “Know Just What To Do”, dirty gut-bucket Blues on “Mississippi Gas Station Blues”, and western noir with a storybook vibe in “Geronimo”.
While the aforementioned are right up the A(mericana) -word alley, they throw a didn’t-see-it-coming curveball with “Kensington Market”, a beautiful, drifting dose of Dream Pop with psychedelic meanderings, the tune’s vocals handled by drummer Victoria Jacobs. It’s a hip addition to a sonically diverse recording. Dream Pop continues into the album closer but sharpens the sound to produce an edge. “How You Gonna Know” is an experimental cut with Dub influences, a cut where the band had fun in the studio exercising an anything goes mentality to put together a tripped out closer. The harmonies and Americana instrumentation are solid but the fun lies in where I See Hawks in L.A. go with explorations of Dub and New Wave as they stretch all genre’s boundaries. (by Bryant Liggett)