Live and Never Learn, the eighth album from these California Country rock ‘n’ rollers is a wonderful treat for both the ears and the soul. I’ve previously heard comparisons to that other west coast band, the Eagles, but I don’t hear it here. The Hawks are fearless where the Eagles take it easy, and their harmonies take more from doo-wop and bar-room country than, say CSN&Y. The Hawks could easily accomplish musically the Eagles sound, but they’re smarter than that, they take more chances, their sense of humor is near boundless. A case in point: The Eagles would never, could never, create such songs as “Ballad for the Trees,” “The Last Man in Tujunga,” or especially the wonderful, hilarious, and all-important “My Parka Saved Me,” which I’m going to go ahead and say is most likely the best song of 2018 so far. Seriously. We’ll come back to that in a moment, first, the rest of the album.
Novelty songs have long been a rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Remember “Flying Saucer Rock and Roll,” “Splish Splash,” or “Purple People Eater”? Yeah, novelty crap humor; but they rocked. This is important. “Wooly Bully” rocked. “I Put a Spell on You” rocked. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to accomplish. One wrong turn at Albuquerque and suddenly you’re in “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” or “The Chipmunk Song” territory. Humor in rock ‘n’ roll is important and vital. Otherwise everything is Pink Floyd and the National—fine bands yet not what you go after when you want a rollicking and fun trip. And humor is something the Hawks seem to have no short supply of, from the way Robert Waller’s vocal on “Last Man in Tujunga” rapidly descends on the word “collapsing,” stretching it out further than any fully sane singer would ever attempt—but it works, the song needs it to be effective—to the utter lack of any sense of irony on many of these songs. They play it straight, knowing full well how to milk the laughs with a poker face. Smart, humorous lyrics and quick asides from the band such as they way the charge into a single bar of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” right in the middle of “Tujunga” and then continue on as if nothing happened, or the way the pedal steel supports the vocal in “Poour Me,” adding more layers to this wonderful tale of woe.
On several of these songs the Hawks, with Rob Waller’s river bottom vocals and the band’s inherent quirkiness, are reminiscent of the Handsome Family, yet the Handsome Family never rocked this hard, especially on “Stoned with Melissa” which is a fast-paced rocker that starts out making you laugh but takes a sudden turn down a dark alley. Life’s not all fun and games and the Hawks know this, even if it gives them pause to wonder why at times. “Spinning” is dreamy Alt-psychedelia, while “King of the Rosemead Boogie” is a barn spinner of an uptempo blues, and the title song, “Live and Never Learn,” is smooth, smooth Country. The Hawks are all over the map, yet fully in sync, the songs never sounding forced or contrived.
And now we get to “My Parka Saved Me.” Every great album needs a song worthy of putting on repeat and this is the one. We start off with the band opening the door for the organ swells which bring us right in to a rather funny and also rather harrowing true story narrated by the band’s drummer, Victoria Jacobs, in a voice sublimely caught somewhere between the Mid-West and Valley Girl: She got high. She broke up with her boyfriend. She went for a drive down to the lake. The lake was frozen and there was lots of snow. Suddenly, a drunk driver hits her and she “spun like a donut! There was glass everywhere!” All this backed perfectly by the band in a sawdust floor bar-room band manner while a countrified doo-wop section plays the part of Greek chorus, repeating her story line by line in a perfect straight-man sort of way. No time for irony here, just the facts, ma’am. Jacobs’ story continues as she parries back and forth with the band as they break out and begin to embellish on her tale. “That’s not true!” she regales them, but they continue on unabated, facts and memories now distorting into one another as the song and story continues on with a catchy refrain and a wonderful keyboard backdrop, which works very much like Al Kooper’s organ on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” in that it percolates and bubbles throughout, creating even more interest, drawing the listener in.
This is an amazing song and indeed, album. All the disparate parts fit together wonderfully, telling a story that is tragic, comical, and all too true, in a way only a band as brilliant and as fearless as I See Hawks in L.A. can.
Review courtesy The American Magpie…..the Legendary Roy Peak.
Released June 29th 2018