California, and Los Angeles in particular, helped create the genre known as country rock. It’s a niche that’s pretty loosely defined, but most will agree that Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and mid-period Byrds had something to do with it. All of which is to say that country music is nothing new in Southern California. Still, I See Hawks in L.A. has managed to carve out their own unique slice of the country rock pie with their bluegrass-like three part harmonies, songs that hew closer to the country than the rock side of the equation, and a literary approach to lyric writing that’s at once highbrow and down home. They’ve also got a sense of humor, which can be the kiss of death to any band in pop music, but the wit of songwriters Rob Waller and Paul Lacques is laced with enough dark irony to prevent you from laughing out loud.
I See Hawks in L.A. may be the first ever eco-friendly country band, as evidenced by three tracks on Hallowed Ground—”Environmental Children of the Future”, “In the Garden”, and “Ever Since the Grid Went Down.” It’s an over-the-top portrait of what may happen when the gas and coal run out, driven by a galloping rhythm, screaming lead guitar, and a playfully malevolent vocal that makes its tale of apocalyptic violence and debauchery sound like fun. “In the Garden” is played like an old fashion hoedown with driving pedal steel and jittery fiddle, while the lyrics suggest the coming global warming meltdown.
The rest of the album displays a more familiar cosmic cowboy vibe. The title “Carbon Dated Love” sounds a bit highfalutin but it’s a great metaphor for the timeless pains and joys of romance. Lacques lays down some great twang-heavy guitar while Shawn Nourse’s drumming and Paul Marshall’s bass supply a bouncy, choogin’ beat. “Yolo County Airport” is a stomping song perfect for all-night drives through the desert, while “Hallowed Ground” is a pure brokenhearted country tune that details the wreckage of a marriage, albeit with lyrics a bit more literary then your average Nashville ditty.
The Hawks are also intent on not fitting too snugly into the country rock niche. “The Salty Sea” is a Celtic flavored sea chanty with inspired fiddling by Dave Markowitz and pennywhistle accents by Steven Woodruff. It’s a folky tale of a ship’s captain facing a doom he feels he deserves for his years of participation in the slave trade. “Good and Foolish Times” closes the album with a beat that’s part Tex-Mex and part Cajun stomp. Waller’s vocals are full of joy and regret as he recalls the nights of a wild relationship knowing he’ll never recapture the frenzy of a misspent youth. The Hawks may be a bit too sincere at times, but they know how to lock into a solid groove and ride it like a bucking bronco, and that’s the hallmark of all great country bands.
— J. Poet, CRAWDADDY!