I See Duality In the Grooves
By David McGee
NEW KIND OF LONELY
I See Hawks In L.A.
Graceful, easygoing but meaty, the all-acoustic New Kind of Lonely,
album six from the veteran I See Hawks In L.A., evokes the spirit of vintage
Southern California folk and country--Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito
Brothers--and adds a contemporary bluegrass flair. Now a trio of founding
members Rob Waller (lead vocals, guitar) and Paul Lacques (guitar, dobro,
vocals) and long-time bassist/vocalist Paul Marshall, ISHILA bolsters its
lineup for this outing with the Punch Brothers? Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Cliff
Wagner on banjo, Richie Lawrence on accordion and Dave Raven on drums. As you
might guess from songs with titles such as ?New Kind of Lonely,? ?Your Love Is
Going to Kill Me? and ?If You Lead I Will Follow,? the texture of personal,
even intimate, relationships is in sharp focus here?including a relationship
with the Grateful Dead in ?I Fell in Love with the Grateful Dead,? almost five
minutes of tribute to the way the fellows became enamored of the Dead?s music,
message and culture set to a driving arrangement full of cascading guitar lines
and fueled by Waller?s sturdy, folky tenor (surely yours truly is not the only
listener who hears a touch of young Mike Nesmith in his phrasing and timbre).
This being I See Hawks In L.A., you expect the love songs to be cut from
different cloth, and so it is. ?Your Love is Going to Kill Me? encompasses much
of what the band has been about in having the action unfold in a finely etched
natural world among characters striving for a higher plateau while seeing the
folly of all this with a wry sense of humor??Thirty pages of Ulysses, that
much closer to the day/when one of us is leaving and the other must remain,?
begins the song and it continues: ?Well the western sky reminds me of the
time you went all fiery/from a moment?s hesitation at our wild and wicked
ways/and it wasn?t just your beauty or your cosmic sense of duty or the
dolphins in the gables on our fabled wedding day?? The graceful rhythm and
sweet harmonies have an evocative western feel (you might even think Sons of
the Pioneers at one point) as the pace picks up, surging inexorably to the
title sentiment, by which point you don?t know whether to laugh or cry, seeing
as how the singer seems pretty okay with the situation at hand??our love is
so good it?s exactly that bad,? Waller sings with cool equanimity: love is a
battlefield, y?know. More inscrutable and heavily metaphorical?a cousin to
Dawes?s ?That Western Skyline,? in fact?the album closing meditation ?If You
Lead I Will Follow? might be interpreted as likening a love affair to a journey
by wagon train into uncharted territory, where nature itself is both friend and
nemesis; Waller strikes a stance as determined as it is weary (and wary, too),
as Paul Lacques?s weeping dobro and Richie Lawrence?s mournful accordion
function as despairing counterparts to Waller?s voals, but hope rises in the
lovely close-harmonized choruses trumpeting the song title?s determined vow.
The band?s dark humor remains intact, and gets an especially memorable workout
on two numbers. ?Big Old Hypodermic Needle? seems a cheery, acoustic
guitar-driven toe-tapper, but it happens to document two friends? (?two sweet
sisters,? as Waller sings) decision to OD together, ?one last time for the
memories/and the sunset turning gold,? a tragedy recounted by the fellow who
?found them where they fell.? Moral of the story: ?Comin? home?s easy
when you hear the angel bell.? Driven by Cliff Wagner?s hard charging banjo
and further fueled by Gabe Witcher?s furious, circuitous fiddle solo, ?Hunger
Mountain Breakdown? is not a salute to some beloved peak but a contemplation of
a suicidal leap from said peak. The duality permeating New Kind of Lonely
keeps a listener on his toes, lest the Hawks? world seem too straightforward;
fittingly, the music?s southern Cal country lilt is deceptive?it sure sounds
pretty, but dastardly things are going on around it. Bliss out at your own
WEEKEND EDITION APRIL 6-8, 2012
yourself in a small cabin in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, California.
There?s a small fire burning in the stone fireplace just warm enough to burn
away the Pacific fog creeping through the space underneath the door.
People are gathered in the main room. Some are tuning their instruments,
others are twisting up a reefer or two and still others are pouring pints of
home brew. Everybody gets settled and the picking begins.
That cabin, that scene, is
where the latest disc from the California band I See Hawks In LA takes
me. This CD, titled A New Kind of
Lonely, is their fifth release (sixth if you include
their ?hits? collection) and, in a departure from their other work, is
performed solely with acoustic instruments. Foregoing their electric
guitars and pedal steel, I See Hawks In LA have turned in a solid piece of work
that simultaneously enhances and expands their singularly exquisite sound.
Not quite country, not quite
rock, I See Hawks In LA create music that might best be described as a twenty-
first century manifestation of that high lonesome sound first introduced to the
world by Bill Monroe and other bluegrass pioneers. This CD, given the
fact of its entirely acoustic performances, emphasizes that link to the lonely
hollers of Southern Appalachia that one hears in songs like ?Blue Moon of
Kentucky,? ?Uncle Pen,? or ?I?ll Fly Away.? The difference lies in the
song?s topics. Instead of Kentucky, Jesus, or moonshine, New Kind of Lonely includes
songs about Austin, the Grateful Dead, and
weed. Unlike previous releases, the songs here tend toward more personal
situations; personal situations that represent a life outside the
mainstream. After opening with a song titled ?Bohemian Highway? the
listener travels this highway while entertained with tales from the outlands of
California?s bohemia. It is a bohemia birthed in the hippie/freak culture
of the 1960s and 1970s and still celebrated in song, literature and some folks?
daily lives. Like the best fiction emerging from this metaphysical realm
Pynchon, Already Dead: A
California Gothic by Denis Johnson), there are also warnings
of the dangers one might find in a culture that accepts drug use and drifting
as aspects of its essence.
vocalists are instantly recognizable. One of those singers is the
aforementioned Bill Monroe. Others include Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Neil
Young, Mahalia Jackson, Bonnie Raitt and Leonard Cohen, to name just a few. The
vocals of I See Hawks In LA?s Rob Waller fall into this category. The smoothness
of his delivery (unlike Dylan or Young, whose singing is anything but smooth)
does not muffle its sweetness or singularity. There are songs of joy and songs
of warning. Songs about wandering and songs about getting hitched.
key to I See Hawks? is their playing. This acoustic masterpiece features
plenty of incredibly adept, pleasing even achingly beautiful guitar
playing. There are not enough superlatives to describe it. Indeed,
it could stand on its own if the vocals did not exist. When one adds the
fiddle playing of Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers), the sound becomes sublime.
In the past, I have tried to summon musicians that I See Hawks In
LA reminds me of. While not an easy task because of their genuinely
unique sound, Gram Parsons, New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Byrds have
come into mind. This release has reminded me of another. Back in
the 1970s there was a group that hailed from Kentucky and Arizona called Goose
Creek Symphony (they returned in the 1990s and still perform). Their
sound was a combination of rock music, clogging, horns, fiddle music and just
plain awesome picking. Every once in a while their music became something
as celebratory as a group of old timers celebrating their latest batch of
likker. You feel so good; you just have to kick up something.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind
Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order
Frame Up. Jacobs?
essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch?s collection on music,
art and sex, Serpents in the
collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American
Night is now available and his new novel is The
He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack
Obama and the Politics of Illusion,
forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at: ronj1955_at_gmail_dot_com.
Roots Music, Culture, and Social Change
Posted on March 22, 2012
I See Hawks in LA New Kind of
Lonely (Western Seeds Records)
by Art Menius for http://artmenius.com
An old joke defines a gentleman as someone who knows how to play
bluegrass music, but chooses not to do so. I See Hawks in LA offers a west
coast style of acoustic music that draws deeply on bluegrass without ever
becoming bluegrass except for ?Hunger Mountain Breakdown Those who remember
Kate Wolf will know that of which I speak and will likely love I See Hawks in
sixth CD in a 13-year career, A New Kind of Lonely, features entirely
original songs, lovely musicianship, and an open, welcoming vibe. ?I Fell in
Love With the Grateful Dead? captures much of the spirit of the album and the
band. While that is a straight up love song to a special scene, I See Hawks in
LA possesses a true facility for contrasting the music and lyrics. .? The
?breakdown? in the title of ?Hunger Mountain Breakdown? turns out to be a
double entendre, for example, since the protagonist is pondering jumping off a
cliff. ?I know that if I am up here on this mountain, my problems will soon
end.? ?Big Old Hypodermic Needle? is an upbeat country song about overdosing on
also have a literary inclination, which certainly distinguishes their
songwriting from bluegrass compositions. ?Dear Flash? is inspired by Gurney
Norman?s novel Divine Rights Trip, the novel that appeared in the
Last Whole Earth Catalog. As we know, Gurney hung out with the Grateful
Dead when they were still called the Warlocks. ?Mary Austin Sky,? on the other
hand, draws inspiration from the painter Mary-Austin Klein with the wondrous
opening line ?even mundane objects are beautiful.?
trio of Rob Waller (lead vocals, guitar), Paul Lacques (guitar, Dobro), and
Paul Marshall (electric and upright bass) comprises I See Hawks in LA. Waller
and Lacques serve as the primary songwriters. A number of guest musicians,
including the fantastic southern California fiddler Gabe Witcher, help out.
now you may have noticed a lot of references to the 1970s. It is hard to listen
to this most enjoyable album without feeling the 70s groove. It is not unfair
to file A New Kind of Lonely under granola music for the early 21st century. Whether
you are nostalgic or just enjoy top notch songwriting, social commentary, and
acoustic guitar picking, you will appreciate A New Kind of Lonely by I
See Hawks in LA.
I See Hawks in LA won?t be holding a proper
release party for ?New Kind of Lonely? until its Feb. 24 show at McCabe?s in
Santa Monica. But local fans can get a preview of the new tunes this Friday
when the Hawks return to the Coffee Gallery Backstage.
live in the studio around three microphones, ?New Kind of Lonely? is an
acoustic project that highlights one of the trademark elements of the Hawks?
sound: the tightly woven harmonies between frontman Rob Waller, dobroist Paul
Lacques and bassist Paul Marshall. As a band, they?ve long since proved they can
rock the house, particularly during more anthemic numbers like ?Humboldt,? a
staple of their club sets. But their acoustic shows have generally fostered an
intimacy that audiences have also relished, and those fans are likely to
respond warmly to the new recording. The open space in the acoustic settings
directs more attention to the richly poetic, thoughtful lyrics, which balance
humor with a pervasive sense of mortality and loss.
Highway? opens the album on a rather contemplative note, gratefully recalling
old friends and roads traveled together while suggesting they?ve all
disappeared. The loving ?Big Old Hypodermic Needle? bids farewell to two
friends who succumbed to overwhelming demons. One of the most affecting tracks
is the bittersweet ?The Spirit of Death,? which contemplates time?s inexorable
march and mourns late fiddler and singer-songwriter Amy Farris before giving
way to a spirited fiddle solo by Gabe Witcher.
I was a younger man, the good times eased the way
now the stars are falling every other day
dreams of childhood are returning to say
dance is coming, better pick a tune and play??
?Highland Park Serenade? wistfully name checks Figueroa, Mr. T?s Bowl and other
local sites while assessing changes wrought by gentrification and time. ?I Fell
in Love With the Grateful Dead? looks back to youthful discoveries with a laugh
over sparkling guitar leads. The album wraps with the lovely ?If You Lead I
Will Follow,? a fittingly melancholy close to an album that holds up loved ones
and cherished ways, even if they?ve gone out of fashion. In a culture that?s
ever more fragmented, the Hawks continue to show unsentimental respect for what
they believe holds lasting value: land (not real estate) and the environment,
music (not the music industry) and bonds of community forged through mutual
I See Hawks In L.A.
New Kind of Lonely
Gerry Gomez, Staff Writer
reigning kings of Cosmic American Canyon Country Rock must be easing into a
comfy chair atop a shag carpet right about now, enjoying a smoke and a toke as
they celebrate their sixth release,New
Kind of Lonely. Continuing the tradition of mellow, Folky-Psychedelia,
paired with warm vocal harmonies, the group brings rich, illustrative, socially
poignant lyrics to life again with a sound only they can produce.
the top of hill of the local batch of folk infused country rock bands that
re-sparked in the canyons over a decade ago, I See Hawks in LA prove with New Kind of Lonely, why
they are so beloved and also why lyrically, they stand for something larger
than themselves. Musically, there?s no denying that the Hawks have honed a
tight bond over their twelve years as musicians and brothers in arms forming
one of the most consistent and cohesive outfits in the local genre.
songs on this release are mature folk tunes, sprinkled with bits of bluegrass and
plenty of acoustic space thrown. Featuring plenty of upright bass, dobro and
even some smoking fiddle, the Hawks deliver an acoustic based album that
same homeyness found in some of their previous work.
off this album of completely new tunes (the first since 2008′s Hallowed Ground) with a
frolicking country ramble down the ?Bohemian Highway,? I See Hawks settle into
the familiar with some decidedly featured acoustic arrangements. With a late 60′s,
Laurel Canyon vibe, the band falls into comfortable territory, carrying on the
convention of Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, The Bryds, Flying Burrito
Brother, Chris Hillman and Graham Nash, that put LA on the roots rock map and
gave the city its signature sound.
center stage on New
Kind of Lonely are well-crafted lyrics which share the
spotlight with intricate, acoustic instrumentation made up of Waller?s rhythm
guitar, Paul Marshall?s loping bass lines, along with the talented fingers of
Paul Lacques, who brings some tasty finger picking that sounds like a ride
through the Central Coast, soaring high on that stuff Bohemians are so fond of
better example is there than the standout, ?I Fell in Love with the Grateful
Dead,? a fond reflection back to the days of courting the forefathers of
San Francisco Country-Psych. The song recalls the hippie melodies floating
through main character?s head as he and his sister first snuck out to see the
Dead at the Hollywood Palladium. The song, also co-penned with Anthony Lacques,
paints a picture of a crowd of groupies that caravans with the band, and the
sights and sounds that were intoxicating for the young man at the center of the
story. Midway through the tale, the Hawks break into a Seals & Crofts
sounding bridge as Waller sings about the backstage scene to then get to the point
of the song: it?s time to band together and embrace the hippie love message. It
is love that the world could sure use more of.
At first blush, it?s easy to swallow the song as an ode to a
favorite time gone by. But, the Hawks have an ability to employ the lure of the
band?s laid-backness to get their point across. In the folk tradition,
the Hawks use music to state a point or nurture a young person?s mind through
listening to the message in the music. In an inviting way, I See Hawks in LA
ask listeners to join in the caravan, both literally and figuratively on ?I
Fell In Love with the Grateful Dead.? But soon enough, they get down into
social politics of what the Dead denizens are advocating. Waller does sing their
case eloquently and entertainingly and it?s a layered tale of a time that
formed the Hawk?s worldview.
Shedding the pen of the enlightened, ?Spirit of Death,? is an
emotional tribute song to friend and kindred soul, local musician Amy Farris.
Farris died last year and left a hole felt by the LA roots community. She was a
violin virtuoso and fragile soul who lent her talents to many artists locally,
each time rubbing off her special beauty on their projects. The song employs
fellow fiddler Gabe Witcher to lay down a solo to carry her spirit to the great
beyond. He does so respectfully and more than capably.
tracks populate New
Kind of Lonely, all gems from a very talented group. I See Hawks in
LA are a treasure to Los Angeles and all of California, if only as troubadours
who further the country folk rock continuum. But that?s hardly the whole
story. I See Hawks have lessons to teach. And the lessons need fall
on ears that can embrace them. In a rare and unique way, the Hawks bring great
musicianship, great songwriting and a great message to the universe. In times
of serious depletion of love, the band hold their place as an integral part of
the Sin City scene.
see Hawks in L.A., as the band are playing McCabe?s on Friday night, Feb.
24. They are celebrating their release with TJ favorites, Old Californio. Go and
spread the love.
I See Hawks In L.A. may be an odd name
for a band, but it is one of the best alternative country bands, in concert and
on stage, working today. The name actually comes from a diffident gesture: "If
you see hawks, then maybe we should talk."
band was formed in 1999 by Bob Waller, plus Paul and Anthony Lacques. When this
album was recorded, the core members consisted of guitarist/lead vocalist Waller,
guitarist/dobro player Paul Lacques, and bassist Paul Marshall. They are
supported by fiddle player Gabe Witcher, banjo player Cliff Wagner, drummer
Dave Raven, and accordion player Richie Lawrence.
group has released five albums of what can be best defined as
psychedelic/electric alternative country music. The guitars were the prominent
instrument, with a thumping rhythm section in support.
sixth album, A New Kind Of Lonely, travels in a very different
direction. The band's acoustic sets have always been well-received, so now it has
recorded just about an all-acoustic album, with only a dash of electric bass.
The acoustic guitar sound of Waller and Lacques is now more subtle, as the fiddles,
banjos, stand-up bass, and accordion take the overall sound in a more traditional
country direction. What remains intact are their incisive lyrics, which deal
with the environment, death, loss, and scathing social commentary. Also still
present are the exquisite three-part harmonies which add a shimmering glow to
times their music belies their lyrics, and visa versa. ?Big Old Hypodermic
Needle? tells the story of two friends overdosing on drugs hidden in upbeat
music that is fit for the dance hall. Some bluegrass banjo and fiddling drive
?Hunger Mountain Breakdown,? with lyrics about suicide.
group travels south to the American Delta region for a Cajun work-out on the
rocking ?The Spirit Of Death,? and ?I Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead? was
their tribute to the Dead with this jam-like track.
See Hawks In L.A. has proven that it has been one of the better alternative country
bands in the business during the past decade. New Kind Of Lonely further
proves that the band is not afraid to take chances and strike out on different
musical pathways. It has issued a well-recorded album of harmonic textures and
haunting themes that is well worth a listen.
Live Music: I See Hawks in L.A. at McCabe?s