One of my favorite bands of the past decade is the California rock country ensemble I See Hawks in LA. Sometimes electric, other times acoustic, the unceasingly intricate and melodic guitar work, sweet vocals and lyrical sensibility featured across I See Hawks’ catalog reminds the listener that rock and roll can be incisive and fun without giving an inch.
The original drummer of I See Hawks was Anthony Lacques. Just last month Anthony released a CD of his own. Titled Right On Heliotrope!, this disc from Anthony Lacques’ newest band Stoney Spring finds a few members of I See Hawks working behind Anthony. Many of the vocals are from Rob Waller, who also sings lead for I See Hawks. The band is rounded out with Paul Lacques’ pedal steel and guitar and Sly and the Family Stone’s Jimi Hawes bass playing. Waller’s baritone voice has a gentle, melodic authority that encourages a close listening to the lyrics he’s putting forth. Piano dominates many of the tunes here, sounding occasionally like Mose Allison and sometimes like early Herbie Hancock, but always unique. The prominence of the piano doesn’t mean the guitar is not worth noting. Indeed, the less defined nature of Stoney Spring’s music in terms of genre gives Paul Lacques greater room to display his artistry and versatility on the instrument. Occasionally as anthemic as the best stadium rock, sometimes sitar-like, it is always fluid and quintessentially pleasing.
The songs on Right on Heliotrope! hit a number of themes. There’s a quick commentary on the vapid (make that nauseating) nature of modern capitalist culture titled “New Blood.” That is followed by one of the cleverest attacks on that economic system’s current insidious plan to make a dollar off of everything, every thought, every resource, and every human service in existence. This song, titled “Jobs,” is nominally about the Apple Corporation’s Steve Jobs. In reality, Jobs is just a useful and deserving foil in this ditty. “I don’t blame Steve Jobs,” goes one verse “for making rock and roll a shopping mall.” Several other examples of Apple’s ongoing privatization of human relationships are sung, reminding the listener of the corruption of our lives. This, however, is only one aspect of the tune.
It is the other aspect that hits closer. That is our complicity in Apple’s campaign. We voluntarily give up our privacy and our record albums for the sleek sexiness and convenience of the IPhone and its apps. Like Johnny Cash’s 1971 song “Man in Black” and its verse “Well, we’re doing mighty fine, I do suppose/With our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes…” Lacques’s point in this song (and the previous one) is not only that the content of our songs, films, and television shows help to form a consumerist mentality, so does the method of their delivery. When considered in the manner put forth in this song, the transition from jukebox to hi-fi to boom box to MP3 players defines the privatization of public performance in a very obvious and tangible manner. Stoney Spring reminds us that we are as complicit in the destruction of our spiritual selves as the corporations who provide us with the means to do so.
Anyone who’s listened to Golden Oldie Radio knows there is a long tradition of teenage death songs. Two that come to mind when considering this genre are the 1960 US hit for Ray Peterson titled “Tell Laura I Love Her” and the 1959 Jean Dinning-composed “Teen Angel.” Stoney Spring puts their own twist to these tunes with the song “Class of 1975.” This song doesn’t pretend to the innocence of its predecessors. The girl ending up as a corpse here accidentally overdoses; there are no train tracks or car crashes, just too much fun. Neither are there any declarations of undying love here, just the singer’s story of a friendship with a hippie girl who partied too hard one weekend on Quaaludes and whiskey and died.
Like the aforementioned I See Hawks in LA, Stoney Spring understands the essentially desperate times we face. Yet, despair is not the essence of their music. Instead, one finds a joyful challenge to the ever expanding matrix that would render our cultural pursuits to be less meaningful than the dollar bills we pay for it. Political without the abrasiveness so often associated with that term, insightful without being preachy, and, most importantly, enjoyable, this first disc from Stoney Spring is worth checking out.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com.