I See Hawks in LA’s album “On Our Way” was released in the autumn of 2021 and it was a big favourite with The Riot Squad. Here we get the band’s take on some of the positives of 2021.

Well, you know, you need the lows to know you’re high.  So here’s a shoutout to 2020, for letting us know just how low low is.  And thus appreciate this year’s cherished High Fives, to wit:

1. The love and appreciation for our new release “On Our Way,” from critics, DJs, fans, friends.  The reviews are so beautifully written, full of insight, and reveal things we didn’t even consider.  (Music Riot’s piece is great.)  The album was a plague informed foray into unknown sonic/psychic territory for us simple Californians.  We released it into the world as an eccentric and moody child.  But now we see the colors.  A band needs the world’s reaction to know where they stand, how well they communicated.  It’s our lifeblood and our guide.

2. The Road.  Praise be, we got a taste of the road this fall, re-entry into mini touring, a delightful jolt–back on Planet Human and its parking lots and back doors, Northern California and the Carolinas, baristas and The Mission, Waffle House, dairy country gazebo stage, WNCW, Charlotte dream backyard, East Bay Red Meat afternoon love fest, Appalachian barn in the rain, hippie rebirth in the healing wise woods fest-uh-vuhl!!  We love you all and you know who you are.

3. The people who kept humankind alive.  Health care workers, 12 hour shift delivery and big rig drivers, food growers and distributors, field workers, and the millions we can’t even be aware of.  They risked it all,  many gave their lives, and hey, very few are properly compensated.  Here’s to unionization, real wages, and the collapse of the oligarchy that keeps billions under its thumb while sending themselves into space. 

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4. Brantley Kearns.  A country fiddler like Miles Davis was a jazz trumpet player, spilling way over the banks of convention.  Brantley hails from High Point, NC, where he learned real deal fiddling for dances, mastering old timey and bluegrass repertoire and high lonesome vocals.  And of course headed straight for Berkeley in the 1960s, immersed himself in the counter culture, played with Jerry Garcia and the psychedelic luminaries, which jams and encounters led to musical partnerships with David Bromberg, Dwight Yoakam, Billy Joe Shaver, and may we modestly include? I See Hawks In L.A.  Brantley played with us for years and we’re happy to have him back at his most avant garde on our new release.  Here’s a rare 1985 Houston concert film of Dwight Yoakam’s seminal band, lo fi but a good dose of Brantley: 

We just discovered this gem, a 1975 Good Old Boys live release with Brantley, Jerry Garcia on erratic but occasionally brilliant bluegrass banjo, and Frank Wakefield, madman of the mandolin:  

GOOD OLD BOYS LIVE – Bluegrass Unlimited

5. Northeast Los Angeles.  Hey, we didn’t budge from this sweltering foothills backwater during the plague, and it wasn’t so bad.  Good coffee and food were to be had in safety conscious joints, people embraced walking, bike riding, and the non material side of life, mask compliance amongst  locals hit 100% (eventually), and we froze our covid numbers.  If money doesn’t warp the demographics further, this is a funky multicultural slice of heaven. 

Highland Park: One of Los Angeles’ First Suburbs | KCET

Where do I start with this one? The obvious I suppose; this is I See Hawks in LA’s lockdown album. This is the one where they discovered all of the ways of working that didn’t involve being in a room together, courtesy of Tim Berners-Lee. Rob Waller, Paul Lacques, Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs jumped in at the deep end and explored all the possibilities and opportunities on offer. The change in working methods and the broad church of Americana in the twenty-first century make “On Our Way” a very eclectic album indeed, incorporating elements of psychedelia, sixties pop and Southern swamp rock alongside the more usual country rock and string band arrangements. There’s a strong Byrds influence running through the whole album with twelve-string guitar featuring heavily and some gorgeous harmonies.

The album even has a pandemic song, the incredibly catchy and hook-filled “Radio Keeps Me on the Ground” which builds from an acoustic guitar intro, goes through the gears and finishes with the full band including Hammond B3. It’s an uplifting and optimistic look back at a particularly difficult year. The songs that move away from I See Hawks in LA mainstream are what gives the album its originality and depth. “Mississippi Gas Station Blues” is a grungy lo-fi, Canned Heat-inflected lope with a growling vocal, while “How You Gonna Know”, at over eight minutes long, is a constantly evolving take on a Tuareg chant with ambient sounds and general weirdness. “Know Just What to Do” is a heavily Byrds-influenced piece in triple time with chiming twelve-string and reversed guitar phrases. I’m not saying I’m endorsing this, folks, but these songs probably work better accompanied by some weed.

Victoria Jacobs gets her own song, as a writer and singer, on the album and it’s a little gem with a feel of sixties pop filtered by St Etienne. “Kensington Market” is about a visit to London in the eighties and has a dreamlike quality that works perfectly with Victoria’s vocal. There are a couple of interesting songs about historical figures; “Geronimo” tries to get inside the head of the Native American leader in later life, while “Kentucky Jesus” praises Muhammad Ali for his political and spiritual achievements rather than his boxing. Both are thought-provoking pieces.

“On Our Way” is a fascinating mix of mainstream Americana with psychedelia and a bit of grunge for good measure, topped off with Rob Waller’s mellow lead vocal and some lovely smooth harmonies. You certainly won’t be bored by this album.

“On Our Own Way” is out now on Western Seeds Record Company (WSRC – CD015).

Here’s the video for the title track: