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I See Duality In the Grooves
By David McGee

I See Hawks In L.A.
Western Seeds

Graceful, easygoing but meaty, the all-acoustic New Kind of Lonely, album six from the veteran I See Hawks In L.A., evokes the spirit of vintage Southern California folk and country–Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers–and adds a contemporary bluegrass flair. Now a trio of founding members Rob Waller (lead vocals, guitar) and Paul Lacques (guitar, dobro, vocals) and long-time bassist/vocalist Paul Marshall, ISHILA bolsters its lineup for this outing with the Punch Brothers’ Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Cliff Wagner on banjo, Richie Lawrence on accordion and Dave Raven on drums. As you might guess from songs with titles such as “New Kind of Lonely,” “Your Love Is Going to Kill Me” and “If You Lead I Will Follow,” the texture of personal, even intimate, relationships is in sharp focus here—including a relationship with the Grateful Dead in “I Fell in Love with the Grateful Dead,” almost five minutes of tribute to the way the fellows became enamored of the Dead’s music, message and culture set to a driving arrangement full of cascading guitar lines and fueled by Waller’s sturdy, folky tenor (surely yours truly is not the only listener who hears a touch of young Mike Nesmith in his phrasing and timbre).

This being I See Hawks In L.A., you expect the love songs to be cut from different cloth, and so it is. “Your Love is Going to Kill Me” encompasses much of what the band has been about in having the action unfold in a finely etched natural world among characters striving for a higher plateau while seeing the folly of all this with a wry sense of humor—“Thirty pages of Ulysses, that much closer to the day/when one of us is leaving and the other must remain,” begins the song and it continues: “Well the western sky reminds me of the time you went all fiery/from a moment’s hesitation at our wild and wicked ways/and it wasn’t just your beauty or your cosmic sense of duty or the dolphins in the gables on our fabled wedding day…” The graceful rhythm and sweet harmonies have an evocative western feel (you might even think Sons of the Pioneers at one point) as the pace picks up, surging inexorably to the title sentiment, by which point you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, seeing as how the singer seems pretty okay with the situation at hand—“our love is so good it’s exactly that bad,” Waller sings with cool equanimity: love is a battlefield, y’know. More inscrutable and heavily metaphorical—a cousin to Dawes’s “That Western Skyline,” in fact—the album closing meditation “If You Lead I Will Follow” might be interpreted as likening a love affair to a journey by wagon train into uncharted territory, where nature itself is both friend and nemesis; Waller strikes a stance as determined as it is weary (and wary, too), as Paul Lacques’s weeping dobro and Richie Lawrence’s mournful accordion function as despairing counterparts to Waller’s voals, but hope rises in the lovely close-harmonized choruses trumpeting the song title’s determined vow.

The band’s dark humor remains intact, and gets an especially memorable workout on two numbers. “Big Old Hypodermic Needle” seems a cheery, acoustic guitar-driven toe-tapper, but it happens to document two friends’ (“two sweet sisters,” as Waller sings) decision to OD together, “one last time for the memories/and the sunset turning gold,” a tragedy recounted by the fellow who “found them where they fell.” Moral of the story: “Comin’ home’s easy when you hear the angel bell.” Driven by Cliff Wagner’s hard charging banjo and further fueled by Gabe Witcher’s furious, circuitous fiddle solo, “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” is not a salute to some beloved peak but a contemplation of a suicidal leap from said peak. The duality permeating New Kind of Lonely keeps a listener on his toes, lest the Hawks’ world seem too straightforward; fittingly, the music’s southern Cal country lilt is deceptive—it sure sounds pretty, but dastardly things are going on around it. Bliss out at your own risk.