by Chris Griffy
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I See Hawks in L.A. is a band that has won over a ton of fans with their seamless blend of California Country-Rock and Psychedelia on their five previous albums, as well as through their strong live performances.
Of late, I See Hawks in L.A. have increasingly flirted with all-acoustic shows, hosting a one-mic acoustic series in Los Angeles’ Cole’s bar and with acclaimed tours in support of Americana superstars like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dave Alvin, and Chris Hillman.
After years of teasing fans with glimpses of a what a stripped down I See Hawks in L.A. sounds like, the band has finally pulled the trigger on their first all-acoustic album, titled New Kind of Lonely, releasing March 6.
On New Kind of Lonely, guitarist and vocalist Rob Waller takes center stage with his dark lyrics and intricate guitar arrangements. As befits its name, New Kind of Lonely spends a lot of its running time exploring loss, both of love and of life. “Spirit of Death” explore this most achingly with the tale an aging man whose “dance is coming, you better pick a tune and play…”
But don’t think this is a funeral dirge of an album. There’s plenty of dark humor and even some hope on New Kind of Lonely. “Spirit of Death” ends on an upnote, with some dance-worthy fiddle work by Gabe Witcher that lifts the listener’s, as well as presumably the narrator’s, spirits.
But the gems on this album are “I Fell in Love with the Grateful Dead”, “Big Old Hypodermic Needle”, and “Hunger Mountain Breakdown.” The songs couldn’t be more different and show off the songwriting range on New Kind of Lonely.
“I Fell in Love with the Grateful Dead” is the tale of a Deadhead who “in ’72 I rode up the coast, on a sputtering Triumph with draft dodging freaks from my college.” It’s a nostalgic tale of a more simple time when “hippie carefree melodies filled my head where I did what I did and said what I said in the parking lot caravan of the Grateful Dead.” It’s an appropriately Jammy track, with plenty of Dead inspired guitar and bass antics
“Big Old Hypodermic Needle” tells the tale of two friend who overdose together to get “one last time for the memory of the sunset turning gold.” The arrangement on this one is interesting, oddly jaunty and dance-worthy for such a dark subject. While this could have provided a distraction in less capable hands, I See Hawks in L.A. manage to make it sound like it’s the most normal thing in the world. As with the speeded up ending to “Spirit of Death”, it reminds us that one person’s fear and dread is another’s welcome release. As the song’s final lyrics tell us “coming home’s easy when you hear the angel bell. Two sweet sisters and the sunrise, hear the angel bell.”
“Hunger Mountain Breakdown” could have been a Bill Monroe song in another era. A straight up Bluegrass number, it tells the tale of a man planning a dramatic ridgetop suicide and features some stellar instrumental work from banjo picker Cliff Wagner and fiddler Gabe Witcher.
New Kind of Lonely is a true anachronism, a thoroughly modern album that still manages to sound like it belongs alongside the dark lyrics of Hank Williams and Ralph Stanley and the tight vocal harmonies of The Louvin Brothers. It’s a lovingly crafted ode to a bygone era, where Country artists weren’t in the business of making feel good pseudo-pop songs but instead told unvarnished stories of love, loss, pain ,and death.
In a time that is often compared in the news to The Great Depression, the world needs albums like New Kind of Lonely that look back to those dark times.
New Kind of Lonely hits store shelves on March 6. An acoustic album release party will be held February 24 at McCabes with electric versions of the album’s tunes being debuted in a show March 10 at Pappy & Harriet’s.