I See Hawks in L.A.

California Country

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Connoisseurs of surreal country in the grand Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers/Byrds tradition will find much to love on California Country, a collection of shrewd, witty songs custom-fitted -- big beats and all -- for the beards'n'boots crowd. Here's a disc that suggests its creators have their ears in the '70s and their minds in a modern protest rally: "Byrd from West Virginia" praises the titular senator for his outspokenness on the Iraq War, and "Barrier Reef," with its hilarious refrain that "The keeper of the leaf/Is the barrier reef to my sanity," hints at the backwardness of the national ban on marijuana. Elsewhere, the ever-evolving lineup of I See Hawks in L.A. sees fit to cut loose. "Slash from Guns N' Roses," which hooks up those accustomed to trafficking purely in twang with some excellent rock guitar licks, is a prime example; in it, a Slash impersonator is confronted by the real deal at an L.A. party. "Motorcycle Mama," meanwhile, revisits a beloved character from a same-named Neil Young song -- here, she's still laying her big spike down, only she sounds more inclined to a saddle up when she's off the hog. Musically, I See Hawks in L.A.'s heavenly three-part harmonies are tight as ever, and frontman Rob Waller sounds by turns broken, brainy, and borrowed from a different, cooler planet. Should NASA ever find an outer-space mission for a whiskey-shooting country singer, he's their man.

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