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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.