For a non-Californian like myself, I find myself reaching for a map to locate the California reference points in this band’s songs. On Grapevine, it was Humboldt and Grapevine and here on their fourth release, Hallowed Ground, Yolo County. Geography aside, the band channels Gram Parsons, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Byrds/Burritos into one of this decade’s premiere psychedelic country rock bands. What makes it work? It’s the superb lead vocals of Rob Waller, capable players in the core lineup or guests featuring such stalwarts as Brantley Kearns on fiddle (first record) and to this disc’s addition of Dave Zirbel (Commander Cody) on pedal steel, Gabe Witcher (Merle Haggard) on fiddle and others with rich roots pedigrees. And, more than anything, it’s their laid –back hippie vibe. Check out the mellow “Highway Down.”
Subject material for songs can be both bizarre and interesting. Past discs had despair in Disney World, Senator Byrd from West Virginia, blackjack in Jackpot, hippie parenting, and the imminent collapse of suburban Houston. This one features a hiking couple’s disappearance in Topanga Canyon (“Carbon Dated Love”), several environmental themes, and dark images of life (the sizzling “Ever Since the Grid Went Down”). But mostly, it’s a California thing. Can you imagine any other band with a phrase “put Mike Stinson on the stereo” from the title track? Stinson is widely admired on the LA local scene but far less known elsewhere.
On this effort, the Hawks diversify into Celtic, Tex-Mex, and 70s soul at the hand of mixer Ethan Allen (Patty Griffin, Daniel Lanois). Other notable tracks include the rock n roll “Yolo County Airport,” gorgeous harmonies in “Open Door,” the Celtic styled “Salty Sea,” and the appropriate closer, “Good and Foolish Times.” As the chorus says, we’ve all taken some long and winding rides. Take this one. You won’t be disappointed.
— Jim Hynes, Elmore Magazine