by Danny McCloskey
Over the course of a little over eight years, I See Hawks in L.A have made an imprint on the Roots music landscape. Through their first three discs, their self-titled debut, ‘Grapevine’ and ‘California Country’, The Hawks bring a strong sense of self. The albums’ characters, narrators and bio related tales have helped to define the band, creating the story via road songs and relationships. On their stellar fourth disc, ‘Hallowed Ground, the band, comprised of Rob Waller (lead vocals, guitar), Paul Lacques (guitars, vocals), Paul Marshall (bass, vocals) and Shawn Nourse (drums), continue that theme. The autobiographical component of the earlier output is especially present on the barn burner ‘Yolo County Airport’. The track capably describes a day in the life on the road with I See Hawks. The road continues and finds another turn on “Getting Home Tonight”, which brings in real life decisions amid time worn experiences. While those tracks manage to keep true to the bands previous tales, many of the albums songs bring in beliefs that help flesh out what I See Hawks in L.A. stand for to complement their life experiences story line.
The track titles themselves give more than a hint at standing up and shouting. While songs like ‘Ever Since the Grid Went Down’ and “Environmental Children of the Future” offer lyrics that keep in line with their titles, it is the more subtle phrases that craft the albums activism. The characters in these songs are what truly defines their intentions. On “Keep It In A Bottle”, once the scene is set, the conversation veers towards potential threats in the form of the question ‘Have you been hearing about the bees?’ Is it denial or the wish for things to get better that brings the reply “yes I have but that’s all right, nothing can stop the blue of the sky’. The remainder of the song brings in reality yet still allows the listener to come to their own conclusions. Are the memories collected for the day or are the ramifications longer lasting?
The songs and the dialogue continue, each allowing the ears on the other end of the notes to decide of meaning and results. The botanist and the astrophysicist of ‘In The Garden’ take on the roles of environmental pros and cons. The loneliness and surface level emotions of ‘Highway Down’ echo the loss that comes with change to the narrators beloved San Joaquin Valley, “Lord knows, I love this valley, though it’s as wounded as an alley”.
Though coming from different places and motivations, “Environmental Children of the Future” and “Ever Since the Grid Went Down” share the desperation of the state of the world. The move towards a greener world is represented as current thoughts when Rob Waller sings ‘Don’t need to steal or borrow from their grandchildren’s rain, from their grandchildren’s sun, from their grandchildren’s mountain, they way we have done”. On “Ever Since the Grid Went Down”, the lessons come from the narrators story. Ever wonder what will happen when the plug is pulled? Check out the birds eye view from the lead character who ‘killed a man for batteries, killed a man for gas’. The move from wants to needs becomes clear with lines like ‘I use my Telecaster for a paddle and my G5 tower for a milking stool’.
The potency of the words would be good on paper. What makes these lines come alive, burn into consciousness and move from ideals to guidelines is the delivery via music and voice. The warmth of the harmonies allows the harshness of the message to come through in a tenderness that draws in rather than building the walls that sometimes arise with difficult medicine to swallow. Like the move between the physical and the mental that comes through with ‘Hallowed Ground’ lyric content, the sonic component takes big steps forward. The organic feel and form of the acoustic based instrumentation on these tracks is given a solid foundation in the rhythm section that allows each to have their say while coming together to create the necessary border to house the rich vocals and the all present message.
I See Hawks in L. A. have created a body of work that provides great listens and lessons.