For the past 20 years or so, I See Hawks in LA have purveyed an essential country-rock crossover formula brewed as authentic Americana, so authentic in fact that it might give those boys from Bakersfield a run for their money. Adding a prerequisite touch of twang, soaring melodies and a rugged and rowdy pastiche, the current incarnation of this West Coast-based band consists of vocalist/guitarists Paul Lacques and Rob Waller, bassist/vocalist Paul Marshall, and drummer/vocalist/sometime guitarist Victoria Jacobs, with various guests sitting in. Theirs is a sound that summons the wide open spaces of America’s sprawling western expanse, from the forlorn barroom moan of “Pour Me,” to the swampy set-up of “White Cross” and the upbeat exchange delineated in “Stoned with Melissa,” along with all sorts of realms that collide in-between.
In many ways, I See Hawks in LA offer a throwback to an earlier era, one which found rock and country finding common ground in the songs of the Byrds, the Burritos, the Dead, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Their forthright vocals and sweep of pedal steel guitar boast a high lonesome sound, one that echoes with the original optimism of days gone by. “Every year is without precedent, every hour is a great unknown,” opening track “Ballad for the Trees” proclaims, its steady pace providing a way forward. Indeed, these Hawks fly high on an adroit blend of optimism and insistence, a sound that culminates in the rocking refrains of “The Last Man in Tujunga,” a ready rocker that’s full of sentiment and sincerity, and “My Parka Saved Me” a nuanced narrative that relates a harrowing tale of a near-fatal mishap.
Suffice it to say, Live and Never Learn ought to be essential listening for any admirer of authentic Americana. Its title aside, this is one band that’s lived and learned their lessons well, while eagerly offering them to others.