Never mind their clear-as-country-water name. "The band name was a code, a question, a diffident invitation: If you see hawks, then maybe we should talk." Formed by Rob Waller and brothers Paul and Anthony Lacques, I See Hawks in L.A. was established on an Echo Park front porch in 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, or as the band recalls, "mellow’s last gasp." Now, four albums later — each the source of radiant reviews in publications like Spin, USA Today, Village Voice, Uncut and the Los Angeles Times — the band will release Shoulda Been Gold, a 17-song greatest non-hits collection including five previously unheard songs (including the haunting title track "Shoulda Been Gold"). The set will come out January 26, 2010 on Collectors’ Choice Music’s American Beat imprint.
According to Rob and Paul’s liner notes from Shoulda Been Gold, "The Hawks imagined an America post-oil, fertilizer and gated communities, and an American folk music with tendrils cracking concrete to reach people aware of the ground they stand on." The bulk of their eponymous first CD was recorded in the living room of Waller’s Echo Park bungalow on primitive equipment. It was released somewhat ominously on September 11, 2001.
In 2003, Paul Marshall and drummer Shawn Nourse joined the band. "The big sound in our heads was here at last," they write. It took three years to finish a second recording, Grapevine, which garnered many long and serious reviews and a smattering of airplay. The band boarded a GMC Yukon bound for Vermont and back again, first of many tours that brought a loyal national following and three appearances at the top of the Freeform American Roots chart and #2 on XM radio’s X Country channel.
In 2006, the band signed with Sovereign Artists, a label helmed by Warner Bros. alumni, which lost its funding (and returned the masters) just in time for the band to release CD number three, California Country, on its own Western Seeds label. Then the Hawks flew to England to tour. "Who knew that enthusiastic and literate crowds with knowledge of our songs would await us?" they write. "We were like the old jazzers who found their audience and dignity across the Atlantic."
With Shoulda Been Gold, the band has broken its every-other-year CD release spell, coming on the heels of last year’s Hallowed Ground. The new collection contains only one song from the previous release, "Highway Down," but as they note, "it has the flavoring of all the songs — a lonely road through the San Joaquin Valley, wounded land we love."
Rob and Paul were driving around musing on a title for a greatest hits record that contains no hits, and the title song resulted. It was recorded at drummer Nourse’s house along with two duets between Rob Waller and Textone/producer Carla Olson: "Laissez Les Bon Tempos Roulet," containing real deal Cajun fiddle from Lisa Haley, and David Allan Coe’s minor ’70s classic "Bossier City," featuring honky-tonk pedal steel from John McDuffie.
Shoulda Been Gold also contains some additional unreleased tracks. "Sexy Vacation" was a hit in the basement of Cole’s Bar in downtown Los Angeles, where the band had a long-term residency. "Soul Power," featuring Joe Berardi and Marcus Watkins from Double Naught Spy Car (Berardi’s also from the Fibonaccis) sitting in.
While the first golden era of I See Hawks in L.A. indeed shoulda been gold, the critics hold them in the highest regard. "These guys are the house band for a revolution that isn’t over yet," said High Times. No Depression applauded the band’s "joyous music-making (and) corrosive, acid-edged lyrics." SPIN and Slash himself both gave thumbs up to their folk rock tale "Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses." USA Today cited the band’s "versatility, variety and power with an intriguing dystopian science-fiction bent in the lyrics." The Onion/A.V. Club cited the band’s "lonesome prairie harmonies (and) universal, approachable quality." The Village Voice
"Hope you like it and you stick with it as we gather our wits and songs together one day for Greatest Hits, Volume 2," say the Hawks.
1 Sexy Vacation 3:58
2 Shoulda Been Gold 4:20
3 Humboldt 5:18
4 Byrd From West Virginia 5:03
5 Raised By Hippies 5:24
6 Bossier City (with Carla Olson) 4:30
7 Highway Down 5:14
8 Texarkanada 3:27
9 Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet (with Carla Olson) 4:30
10 The Salesman 3:35
11 Midnight In Orlando 4:45
12 Soul Power 3:45
13 Hope Against Hope 4:26
14 Beautiful Narcotic Place I Reside 4:20
15 Wonder Valley Fight Song 4:53
16 Grapevine 4:40
17 I See Hawks In L.A. 5:56