I See Hawks In L.A. On Our Way
Looks like we’re on our way to another addition to the band’s already lauded musical cannon with this, their 10th album release. This well established Californian band has been building on their country rock background for quite some time now and exploring elements of that state’s varied musical heritage. As with pretty much everyone who was placed in a lockdown situation, the band had to write and record under all the limitations and opportunities that situation presented. But, happily, this set of new songs sounds no less impressive for all that and is very much in line with their previous albums.
The core members of Rob Waller, Paul Lacques, Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs worked on the eleven songs individually, or in various combinations. The next step, after getting the initial recordings down, was to bring in some appropriate guests to enhance the songs. Two notable collaborations are Radio Keeps Me On The Ground that features James and Ed from fellow Californian combo Great Willow (the latter also adding organ to another track) and then Double Nought Spy Car join them for the extended closing eight minute plus How You Gonna Know? The former is a harmony-laden sing along that offers a thumbs up to the way that radio was something of a lifeline for many. The other song takes an extended groove that collages voices and sounds to ask that in these strange times what and who can be trusted and how you gonna know the truth? The use of synth and wah-wahed guitar over the bass and drum bedrock all add to a slightly unsettling psychedelic sense of displacement and distorted vision. The end result is a band moving forward and delivering something different than might be expected, but something that offers an open door for the band and its next steps without abandoning those alt-country elements for which they are noted.
The humour and insight that I See Hawks In L.A. are know for is readily apparent throughout the album, as are their vocal and musical skills. Might Have Been Me features Dave Zirbel’s uplifting pedal steel which sets the tone for the song and he does on the other two tracks that he features on. There is a distinct 60’s feel to the title track with its Rickenbacker guitar motif and it also highlights the band’s melodic and poppier side. Know Just What To Do opens with Brantley Kearns abrasive fiddle over some ambient noise before letting the softer side of the song surface. Mississippi Gas Station Blues is one of those gritty blues workouts with a semi-talking vocal from Waller than has similarities in approach to Dave Alvin.
Waller handles most of the lead vocals here with a weathered voice, while Jacobs takes the lead on two tracks. Her song Kensington Market I think is about the famed much-missed London multi-shop emporium. Appropriately it has, again, a 60’s rock feel with 12-string guitar and folky harmonies as well as what sounds like some squiggly keyboards interludes. The second track she features on is the aforementioned recent single Radio Keeps Me On The Ground (Slight Return), joining Waller and Great Willow to give the songs its strong vocal presence. Kentucky Jesus tells of a disillusioned vet. In Geronimo, which is about the famed Native American leader, there is again a more apparent alt-country feel. Stealing and If I Move round out this album with thoughtful lyrics and sold affirmations of the fact that I See Hawks In L.A. are a highly visible presence who ably continue the rich history of California’s rock, country and psychedelic influences. It should also keep them on the way to more fulfilling trip.
Review by Stephen Rapid