When is a greatest hits album not a greatest hit album? A good indication is when a third of its set list is spiced with songs that are either new or have never been released. But the best sign that the collection you’re spinning isn’t a greatest hits package is when there aren’t any hits. And in the case of I See Hawks in L.A., it’s almost unfathomable that the SoCal quartet (with a boatload of talented friends guesting) is in that very position with their new career overview, Shoulda Been Gold.
Formed just over a decade ago by relocated Minnesotan Rob Waller and former Polka shuffler Paul Lacques, the Hawks were an immediate local sensation, combining the Country/Rock style points of The Byrds, the peyote-hazed Honky Tonk of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the trailblazing Country/Pop hybridization of Michael Nesmith along with a twisted sense of humor and laser guided lyrics of social and political import.
I See Hawks in L.A. have released four albums to date — their eponymous 2001 debut, 2004’s Grapevine, 2006’s California Country and 2008’s Hallowed Ground — and each successive disc has found the Hawks inching ever closer to a perfect blending of Country, Pop and Rock, a mutation that features elements of all three genres but is rarely any one of them completely.
If you’ve never heard the Hawks, Shoulda Been Gold is a great sampler. There are excellent selections from their last three albums (including the scorching “Texarkanada,” the brilliantly bouncy “Raised by Hippies” and the gently scathing “Midnight in Orlando”), a trio of terrific tunes recorded specifically for this album (including the title track, “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet” and a cover of David Allen Coe’s “Bossier City,” the latter two with guest vocalist Carla Olson), a couple of archive cuts from the Grapevine sessions, the unreleased 2000 demo of the song from their debut album that gave the band their name and a live version of “The Mystery of Life.”
If this is where you’re beginning your Hawks education, Shoulda Been Gold will inspire you to fill in the gaps by seeking out the albums that comprise the collection. And if you‘re already enlightened to the Hawks’ Cali cowboy gumbo, congratulations on your great taste — but you’ll still want Shoulda Been Gold for its unheard treasures.
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