By Bliss Bowen
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By Bliss Bowen
By Bliss Bowen
Link to article
Arriving August 27th is the tenth studio album from the country/Americana band, I See Hawks In LA. Their new release titled “On Our Way” was recorded during the pandemic in the safest way possible, by sending drum tracks, vocals, guitar tracks and everything else through phones and using ProTools to bring all the music together. This recording was also a “life raft” for everyone in the band, who needed an outlet from the craziness of the lockdown and to be able to record new music was a saving grace for I See Hawks In LA.
The album begins with the swift acoustic strumming and violins of “Might’ve Been Me,” which starts things off on a positive note. The warming harmonies of “On My Way” feels like a warm blanket of comfort to help soothe you during these trouble times. There are a couple of songs (“Know Just What To Do” & “How You Gonna Know”) that showcase the depths of their performance, as I See Hawks In LA felt no restraints during this recording process to just let the music lead the direction of the album. The classic country feel of “Kentucky Jesus” will have you thinking that this band has been around much longer than two decades. I See Hawks In LA pick the tempo back up with the storied lyric of “Geronimo,” before finishing their new album with the country blues of “Radio Keeps Me On The Ground (Slight Return)” and the experimental, epic, eight-minute closer “How You Gonna Know?.” To find out more about I See Hawks In LA and their latest release “On Our Way,” please visit iseehawks.com.
by Seuras Og
Western Seeds Record Company – 27 August 2021
It feels like I See Hawks in L.A. have been around forever, so it comes as quite a shock to discover they are almost entirely of this century, coming together in 1999. With an intrinsic feel for the ‘cosmic Americana’ that defined and delighted Gram Parsons. Their music, especially with the latest offering, ‘On Our Way‘, occupies a timeless space where ideas and influences jostle freely, unrestrained by fashion or fortune, contributing together a potent message for the moment.
Still featuring original members Rob Waller and Paul Lacques, who together write the bulk of the material with big contributions from Victoria Jacobs, now on drums, alongside longtime member Paul Marshall. All four sing, with Waller and Lacques playing a wealth of stringed instruments, handling guitars, dobro, lap steel, autoharp and mandolin between them. Oh, and jaw harp, which features memorably on one track. With Waller nominally the lead vocalist, all contribute to the backing without being averse to taking the occasional lead. As with most of their work, a host of friends and associates are also present, fleshing out the sound with fiddle, keyboards, accordion, pedal steel, and lots more guitars.
Like many 2020/1 releases, the unmistakable shadow of covid hangs over its gestation, and astonishingly, this entire ensemble piece was put together remotely. Waller and Lacques regularly got together online to flesh out and form the songs; the contributions and backing came in from all sources, iPhone included. The sleeve notes denote the recording credit to ‘Hawks in houses’. That it sounds so tight, in a homespun ‘live in the studio’ way, is no small miracle and is a credit to the skills of the performers and the production, which is also by the band.
When opener, ‘Might’ve Been Me’, starts with the lyric, ‘If you’re walking thru’ Sonoma’, you know already where you are likely to be heading. A mandolin led jangle, with swoops of steel shooting about Waller’s comfortable buckskin baritone, this is prime country-rock of a style before Americana was a word. It’s glorious, evocative of the latterday Byrds. This leads swiftly into the title track, which continues this mood, the melodicism, a dreamy summoning of times gone by, with electric 12-string making an appearance for good measure. Marshall’s bass is integral here, as it is throughout, never flashy, a steady, reassuring hand on the tiller that sounds simple yet is anything but.
A freeform wail of electric fiddle beckons in ‘Just Know What To Do’, demonstrating these are no one-trick ponies, then some backward electric guitar, ahead of a gentle ballad breaking through, over a strummed acoustic. But the background threat implied by the opening remains implicit, building gradually in the hinterland, the controlled vocal battling out the fiddle, a whirlwind just out of eyeshot. I don’t know if a pandemic theme is being invoked, especially within the raga-like middle section before the calm prevails, but that’s the sense it gave me.
I didn’t expect to find the spirit of Jim Morrison in this record, but ‘Mississippi Gas Station Blues’ certainly has his flavour, the song, a strange bastard cousin of the Beach Boys’ ‘Student Demonstration Time’. But Mike Love could never snarl like this. Scuzzy guitars and organ swagger around to put a faded leather jacket on the song. By complete contrast follows ‘Kensington Market’, which, yes, is that London one. With Victoria Jacobs on lead vocal, this is a delightful piece of 60s whimsy, with burbles of synth sneaking through in the background, paired with a baritone guitar. ‘Check out all the crazy people’, she sings, and you can bet there would be flowers in their hair.
‘Kentucky Jesus’ occupies a more old-timey feel, a story song, in waltz time, an oblique tale that asks more questions than it answers. At a faster lick, ‘Geronimo’ is another in the procession of songs about the prominent leader and medicine man from the Bedonkohe band of the Apache people, who, following his arrest, was pitifully paraded around by the authorities, and it is a worthy companion, with a very western feel and twang to it.
‘Stealing’, like ‘Kentucky Jesus’, channels the vocal ambience and songwriting of Canada’s Gordon Lightfoot and is a further sturdy construct of a song about living in the present, with a tune and message that lingers long after the closing bars. In the same vein is ‘If I Move’, which is full of classic two-part harmonies in the chorus, and steel counterpoints, on top of a gentle canter that is all Arizona and campfires.
I guess radio songs are thin on the ground these days, so it is the spirit of the truckers that are being kept alive with ‘Radio Keeps Me On the Ground (Slight Return)’, and the sort of station we are more familiar with from films and boxsets than our own UK experience. It always used to be a sure-fire way of getting your song played, but I am less sure that still applies. Perhaps the weakest song here, it risks an overall sense of comfiness that is, thankfully, totally dispelled by the final track, ’How You Gonna Know’. Entering with the aforesaid jaws harp and some decidedly solid and soulful drumming, before a hypnotically chanted harmony vocal, and spiky guitar: ‘And there’s no-one here to tell us what to do, we’re all on our own”. At his most Horse Latitudes, it is Jim Morrison again, but funkier and with more of a tune. Growing onward and upward, at over eight minutes, it is a transformational show-stopper. The drums have a hypnotic presence throughout, with the feel of a primaeval forest ceremony. Immaculate, fading into keyboard reverie.
Even ahead of the final track, this is a special record, crafted carefully and with love. Little surprise that no less than Dave Alvin has called the band ‘one of California’s hidden treasures’. But, with the eyes-wide and open-mouthed climax of ‘How You Gonna Know’, and the effect it leaves on you, a good and special record has become great and especial.
By Paul Kerr
Stuck in pandemic land, I See Hawks In L.A. essentially underwent a crash course in remote recording for their latest album, On Our Way. As the band say, they “began the studio game. ProTools, trial by error, error in abundance…Can we use an iPhone recording?” Well, it’s graduation day today as they unveil the album and we can safely say that, were we marking it, it would get an A+.
On Our Way maintains the high standard set on previous releases by these wayward California hippies with their signature notes of high tide lines left behind by the likes of The Dead remaining intact. There is cosmic country, as on the pedal steel infused Geronimo, laid back musings on Stealing (which recalls classic Laurel Canyon days) and even some grungy junkyard ramblings on Mississippi Gas Station Blues which sounds like a mash up of Los Lobos and The Doors.
They set their stall out quite firmly on the flighty country rock of the opening song, Might have Been Me, which ripples along quite excellently and which is followed by the title track which has a slight touch of The Byrds to it in its chime. There’s a lengthy and somewhat freaky fiddle intro to Know Just What To Do which eventually subsides as the song sweetly flows into a fireside like homily. Warm and comforting for sure, but that fiddle buzz eventually returns as the song wavers between comfort and sonic malevolence. It’s as if John Cale had happened upon a David Crosby recording session. This sense of adventure is highlighted on the closing number, How You Gonna Know, an elongated eight minute trip dominated by intricate drum patterns accompanied with antipodean interruptions which eventually erupts into a tribal whelp.
Much more straightforward is the impressive Kentucky Jesus, a song which celebrates Muhammed Ali’s anti draft stance, and drummer Victoria Jacobs offers us the paisley patterned psychedelia of Kensington Market, revisiting territory she explored on the Hawks last album. If it’s Americana then there has to be a travelogue song and the band deliver another excellent slice of cosmic country rock on If I Move which swoops along quite excellently name checking fast food joints chock-full of memories of a lost love, the narrator lost in an endless highway, fuelled by despair. Quite wonderful.
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On Our Way is the new album from Californian country rock group I See Hawks In LA, this is their tenth album and for me their best to date. The band consists of Rob Waller on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and synth. Paul Lacques on guitars, lap steel, autoharp, mandolin and jaw harp, Paul Marshall plays bass and Victoria Jacobs plays the drums, with all the band members contributing backing vocal harmonies. They formed at the tail end of the last century and have played many shows with artists like Chris Hillman, Dave Alvin, Lucinda Williams and many more through the years; indeed playing live is where they are at. This new album also sees contributions from ace fiddler Brantley Kearns, Danny McGough, Dave Zirbel and Woody Aplanalp from Old Californio, amongst others.
It kicks off with the mandolin led ‘Might’ve Been Me’, replete with pedal steel by Paul Zirbel which wouldn’t be too out of place on American Beauty/Workingman’s Dead era Grateful Dead, this is followed by the very catchy title track ‘On Our Way’, a very strong opening pair of songs. ’Know Just What To Do’ is slightly more expansive, it starts (and ends) with some mad twisted fiddling from Brantley and some backwards guitar, before unfolding into a gentle song of revelation. This is followed by the short, bluesy ‘Mississippi Gas Station Blues’. Victoria wrote and sings the wistful ‘Kensington Market’, a well placed indie rock song which details the various sights, sounds and people encountered there; it also features some fine organ from Danny.
The short ‘Kentucky Jesus’ is a song ostensibly about an alternative war hero and comes with contributions by Richie Lawrence on accordion. ‘Geronimo’ is a great dusty Native American tale imbued with plenty of telecaster, pedal steel and mandolin breaks; it is pure country rock gold. ‘Stealing’ is another little gem of a song and sees contributions on vocals and guitars from Old Californio’s Woody. ‘If I Move’ is sees the band playing a Byrds like jangly country rock song with oodles of pedal steel. ‘Radio Keeps Me On The Ground (Slight Return)’ maintains the standard, it ebbs and flows with plenty of room for the instruments to shine and deserves to be played on the radio but probably won’t, especially over here on this side of the Atlantic. The album closes out with the expansive, lightly psychedelic ‘How You Gonna Know’, a groovy rootsy rocker, heralding in a new tomorrow.
Artist: I See Hawks in L.A.Title: On Our Way (Western Seeds Records)You might like if you enjoy: Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, John DoeTell me more:While the world has changed in monumental and challenging ways since I See Hawks in L.A. released their previous album Hawks with Good Intentions in September 2019, the Los Angeles troupe’s forthcoming album On Our Way (coming Aug. 27, 2021) offers the perfect chance to reconnect with the beauty around us. On the alt country quartet’s On Our Way the efforts of singer-guitarist Rob Waller, multi-instrumentalist/backing vocalist Paul Lacques, bassist-vocalist Paul Marshall and percussionist-vocalist Victoria Jacobs to stay connected by songwriting via FaceTime and completing recording remotely during the pandemic astound. This is a beautiful and soul-stirring set of songs that defies the angry shouting heard on 24-hour cable news in favor of songs about “Geronimo, Muhammad Ali, the Faulknerian dilemma, in language sometimes more abstract and mirroring than narration” (according to press notes) as well as “…classic Hawks train beats and country rockers about Marin Wiccans, London mod dub hippie markets and the [un]certainties of love and broken hearts.” Indeed, the range of topics is equaled by the musical depth displayed on the collection. From the lovely mandolin- and pedal steel guitar-adorned Americana opening gem “Might’ve Been Me” and authentic countrified “On Our Way” to the spoken word neo-trance blues of “Mississippi Gas Station Blues” and psychedelia-laced “Kensington Market” and poignant “Geronimo” I See Hawks in L.A. creates songs that tap into authentic country, roots, bluegrass and folk stylings with amazing warmth and might. A number of guest performers help further bring the rich tapestry of songs to life. Information: iseehawks.com.
Country Music As If It Inhabits the Very Marrow in Their Bones
The Hawks are one of those true rarities of a band; really gifted songwriting, great harmonies, especially tight arrangements and they play Country Music as if it inhabits the very marrow in their bones.
They’re also chock full of that special blend of facile honesty and smart naivety that you can only get with truly great Rock ‘n’ Roll outfits.
Their folk songs aren’t overburdened with worries about keeping the faith, or playing it up old-school, just keeping it damn real.
The photo of the band on the cover is of an unassuming group of individuals: humble, thoughtful, unassuming, probably best of friends—dare I say: ‘real’.
Are they Country, Folk, or Rock?
Weird, cryptic, or truly out there?
What they are is fearless, honest, and reaching, and that, dear reader, is plenty enough to be pleased about nowadays. Take the song “Mississippi Gas Station Blues” which is kind of like a psychedelic Doors/John Lee Hooker/X mashup with a touch of Tom Waits thrown in for good measure.
This is dark Blues with Faulkner’s ghost making an appearance.
Or “Kentucky Jesus” which makes you sit up and take note once the song’s main character reveals himself. Larger than life heroes deserve larger than life songs, and this one delivers.
Or the final song “How You Gonna Know?” which is a dark bass and drum groove with stabbing tremolo guitars and percussion weirdness with offset vocals.
What’s it about?
I have no idea and would most likely be wrong if I tried, but it Rocks.
This is true trippy music, succeeding mostly because it doesn’t try too hard, simply makes its case and leaves you in another state of mindfulness. If it hits you a day or two later, then it did its job.
These songs are the anchors with which they set sail with, ready to throw overboard when the time is just right, when the listener has been comfortably sated with syrupy harmonies and a Country two-step.
“Pay attention now!” they seem to be saying, “Opening your ears is akin to opening your mind,” and they hit you with another great song that comes from somewhere you’d never expect.
“Geronimo” is an imagining of the self-same Native Americans’ thoughts about what to do with an invading army that won’t go away.
“Know Just What To Do” is psychedelic folk with dreamy harmonies, and the Hawks spin us gleefully around with the swinging sixties pastiche “Kensington Market,” written and sung by drummer Victoria Jacobs, and hit us again with “Radio Keeps Me On the Ground (Slight Return)” which is ear-worm, radio-friendly, understated Country Pop that the world needs more of; and it’s a great starting point.
That all of these songs were written and recorded during the 2020 Pandemic is quite the achievement. That the Hawks recorded these songs by themselves on their personal computers through trial and error while the world at large was quarantined is gold medal worthy.
Buy this album!
Well worth it.
After ten albums, I See Hawks in L.A. are truly on their way.
Review courtesy Great Grandpa, Roy Peak esq.
At turns familiar, jocular, thoughtful and experimental – another great album from one of Americana’s greatest bands.
What can one say about I See Hawks in LA? It’s customary to reference their indebtedness to Grateful Dead circa ‘American Beauty‘ / ‘Working Man’s Dead‘ – which is a great debt to have. And it has been noticed before that for a band who enshrine the hippy ideal in song they have a rugged consistency to them – and when that consistency is to be consistently at the top of their musical game then that is no bad thing either. So, here we are with the band’s tenth album and despite it all – lockdowns, Covid, facetime sessions for songwriting and recording musical parts separately then stitching the together into a glorious whole – it can be safely said that, yes, I See Hawks in LA have done it again and delivered an album destined for best of the year lists. It’s that dream of an album – where there are song-writing contributions from most of the band (only bassist Paul Marshall doesn’t have a writing credit) and the combination of writing talents compliments rather than jars.
Opener ‘Might’ve been Me‘ takes all those best influences for a song that falls somewhere between bluegrass and folk for a tale of dandelion tea and mysticism, who has entranced another “apprentice” for her magic: – there’s surely devotion to be detected in “She’s the fair and barefoot maiden / In the corner of your eye/ And she gathers stray vibrations from the dead / She says I’m her apprentice / And yesterday she sent me / To gather bitter greens from your backyard“, but it’s not completely clear who for. A complete change around can be found on ‘Kensington Market‘ which finds drummer Victoria Jacobs wandering in a psychedelic haze through Kensington Market, where she plans to “Get lost in the winding passages / Check out all the crazy people / And take a look around.” There’s something of a Byrdsian feel to this exploration of a Strange New World, there’s a nod to the Buffalo Springfield too and a huge portion of adopted British Sixties Psychedelia.
Paul Marshall takes lead vocals for ‘Radio Keeps Me on the Ground‘, a co-write with James Combs of Great Willow, a fine chuncking growler of a song, which shuffles around deliciously as it delivers its simple message – listen to your radio, an instruction as old as rock and roll itself. In these days of pre-programmed DJs it’s maybe harder to find those voices who’ll bring one something more magic than the pre-packaged, but when you find it then it’s something to cling to. ‘Stealing‘ is a double pedal steel dreamy country-rock ballad – with maybe a wider undertone to the softly whispered ‘We gotta learn together now“, because, as the song describes, the world’s going slightly crazy and needs some healing.
The closer is also the longest song on the album, ‘How You Gonna Know?‘ is a hypnotic drone of a song – the reminder that I See Hawks In LA can also go on long and winding excursions to destinations not clearly known. Each Paul Lacques guitar line, or a drum pattern change can lead the listener off down a different path – and Rob Waller’s vocals don’t provide an easy to read map as he sings that “Love is a dirty glacier / From which all rivers flow / Flow like silver / Sink into the inevitable / Darkening as it flows / How you gonna know?” In its unapologetically experimental way it is quite marvellous – one to play over and over in order to divine the deeper meaning. And man, maybe backwards would help, you know, maybe?
A “Left Coast” indie outfit, I See Hawks in L.A.follows in the tradition of such fabled roots rock pioneers as the Byrd, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dillards, the Youngbloods, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the other California combos that breached the divide between rock and country in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Led by original founders Rob Waller and Paul Lacques with the additional participation of current mainstays Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs, the band still shows the same dedication to their rustic roots some 20 years on. Naturally then, their new album, On Our Way, becomes a perfect mesh of roots and reverence, sturdiness and sentiment as evolved out of the music made by their forebears. They’ve become an Americana institution in their own right, with fiddles, pedal steel and high harmonies evoking images of high desert plateaus, scenic mountain vistas and dusty rural outposts that occupy those sunbaked environs. This time around, elements of psychedelia and surreal intent are infused in the mix, making the new album their most diverse set yet and indeed, a real revelation as well.
By Lee Zimmerman