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All Music Guide Reviews SBG

Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2009
I See Hawks in L.A.

by Hal Horowitz

The irony of a working band with no hits, or even a recognizable name, releasing a “greatest-hits” album — let alone one that runs a whopping 79 minutes — is not lost on the founding members of I See Hawks in L.A. Founding members lead vocalist Rob Waller and guitarist Paul Lacques address that anomaly in their wry, witty seven pages of liner notes to this generous 17-track overview of the titular years. The group only released four albums during those nine years, but this career/label-spanning disc packs enough terrific Americana into its playing time to convince any fan of the genre that this group’s music has flown under the radar for too long. It’s impossible not to reference Gram Parsons, not just due to the sun-baked West Coast roots and C&W sensibilities, but because of the soul and subtle humor evident in the groove. Seven songs are previously unreleased, so even those familiar with the Hawks’ catalog will need to add this to their collections, especially since some of the newly recorded tunes, including the title track, are highlights of the collection. Lead singer Waller has an emotional, natural voice that gives these strummy gems a focal point while lifting them to a level out of the reach of less talented singers. Sumptuous harmonies such as those on the closing gospel “The Mystery of Live,” interestingly recorded live, also help these songs soar like the bird in the band’s unusual name. Instrumental guests provide fiddle, pedal steel, and organ that augment the quartet’s sound, and Carla Olson helps on female harmonies for two cuts. Her presence on “Bossier City” reinforces the understated Parsons/Emmylou Harris influence. The humor and bluegrass of “The Salesman” balances more serious material such as “Highway Down,” one of the Hawks’ most intimate and moving songs, and a lost classic in waiting. “Midnight in Orlando” name-checks Disneyland/World with droll lyrics played against a lovely slow Eagles-style melody tinted by sorrowful pedal steel and soulful organ. The energy raises a few notches on the uptempo “Wonder Valley Fight Song,” about as close to rock as this album gets. The disc’s title implies that these tunes should have been, if not gold records, more popular than they were. At the very least, this collection should help establish I See Hawks in L.A. as a journeymen roots act with more than a few tricks, and memorable songs, up its collective sleeve.

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