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I See Hawks in L.A. : Hallowed Ground 9 out of 10 stars

A successful band from the Californian country scene with a great live reputation, the Hawks are as down to earth – literally – as you could wish. How many other bands have ever sung a paean to fossilized ferns (Carbon Dated Love) or squeezed a line like ‘The earth is a self-regulating organism’ into a wistful ballad (Environmental Children of the Future)? Are they too po-faced to be fun? Well, no, because they marry this almost entirely serious lyrical agenda to some really great music.

Coming from a country rock base (for Hawks think Eagles with a harder edge) they’ve broadened their outlook considerably. The pedal steel of auxiliary Hawk Dave Zirbel is frequently a distinctive feature of their music but on Hallowed Ground they stretch themselves in to an Irish Sea folk sound ( that is, borrowing freely from folk traditions on all sides of the Irish Sea) and yet still rock out with some loud, head-in-the-speaker, ass-shaking numbers. ‘Ever Since The Grid Went Down’ is built around a rockabilly shuffle and ‘Getting Home Tonight’, amongst others, has an electric guitar passage, ripe for expansion on stage, that you could lose yourself in.

There’s some beautiful fiddle playing here, too, that makes a big impression; in fact it was a surprise to look up the credits and discover that there’s only fiddle on four out of the fourteen tracks. All in all, it’s a beautifully balanced album; the warm wistfulness of ‘Highway Down’, for example, contrasts just fine with the sweet, neat, anti-love song ‘Open Door’, the only song not written by the Rob Waller/ Paul Lacques team. For me, this is a step up from 2006’s ‘California Country’ and a very satisfying record altogether.