The High Hawks - The High Hawks
If you were lucky enough to grow up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you know that the music coming out at that time had a certain vibe. I’m not talking about the bubble-gum pop that was prevalent on Radio One in the day. This is that country-infused, uber-overdriven, gritty sound that blasted out on many a stereo. ‘Supergroup’ the High Hawks have captured, not just the sound, but that whole atmospheric ambience on this, their debut release. At times, their sound is polished and soulful; other times, they embrace a hard-edged sound as they churn out greasy rock tunes with surprisingly sticky melodies and seamless vocals, that can range from snarling aggression to dreamy delight. They pay proper homage to their influences without sounding like rip-offs. The accomplished individuals combine their picking skills and personal experiences to tell stories about the struggles and fears facing common people in every small town and big city. While the six-piece combo possesses the astute abilities necessary to affirm their acumen and intentions, their material is the element that defines them best and underscores their accessibility. With a gift for themes and the strong melodic hooks that give a tune its architecture and its roadmap for improvisation, here is a rocking band with a sublime mastery of lyrics and that is all too rare. Simply put, the High Hawks is a band that delivers on all levels.
The various musicians are currently members of other Americana roots bands and the High Hawks is a side project that came about as and when they would meet out on the road, playing on the same festival or concert bills. Discovering a musical affinity slightly different to the groups they were in, they decided to jam together and see where it took them. The line-up comprises Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth), Chad Staehly (Hard Working Americans), Adam Greuel (Horseshoes & Hand Grenades), Brian Adams (DeadPhish Orchestra) and Will Trask (Great American Taxi). These cats make some serious noise, and they do so with cool-headed precision and plenty of Southern swagger. From the opening infectious groove of Singing A Mountain Song, to the closing Goodnight Irene, here is a band that charts a course straight to the soul. They offer mainly original material and all the members contribute. When The Dust Settles Down, inspired by the late Neal Casal, crackles with nostalgia, like the flying Burrito Brothers mashed up with Fleetwood Mac in regretful dreams. The defiant Trying to Get By plows optimistically forward, reminding us that no matter what happens, the only path is forward. Not only is it something we need to do, but it is also something we are capable of.
Bad, Bad Man, is a raucous romp propelled by an insistent fiddle atop a Tennessee Three rhythmic drive. Tim Carbone’s fiddle is also to the fore on the Cajun-flavoured Do Si Do, an infectious ditty with echoes of Bob McDill’s Louisiana Saturday Night. They get a little heavier with the ponderous Home Is, a deeply moving longing for some kind of stability for someone whose life is spent mainly on the road. The driving Heroes And Highways, is another song about missing home, this one an anthem for all those musicians out playing one-nighter and the sheer enjoyment they share with fellow musos. The socially conscious Blue Earth has an insistent reggae rhythm as the lyrics paint a dismal picture of the pain and suffering of the homeless, the poor, the refugees, the soldiers, the farmers and so many others, who face the brunt of an unfair and broken world. The only outside song, ironically, is Woody Guthrie’s Fly High, an early song about flying home to a loved one, when air travel was in its infancy. This is given a glowing country arrangement with swirling organ, delicate harmonies and even a snatch of whistling towards the end.
The High hawks embody warm-hearted, wide-ranging Americana, blending folk, rock, country and soul into a mellow, refreshing brew. The kudos is well deserved given the fact that the band manage to walk a fine line between an abject allegiance to a time-tested template and the melodic sensibilities that will enable them to reap a wider audience. Crack open a cold one and crank up the volume real loud.