Appearing in 1976 on Polydor, two years after his unsuccessful two-album run at Monument concluded with the unsung The Giant of Rock & Roll, The Hawk in Winter is a change-up for Ronnie Hawkins, a departure in style and sentiment from a singer known for his no-nonsense rock & roll. There's no rock & roll here, just mellow, reflective folk and country tunes, all dressed in layers of acoustic guitars and soft, lush, vocal harmonies, sometimes given a little bit of flair from a harpsichord. It's a far cry from the lean roadhouse raunch of his prime recordings with the Hawks but in another sense, it isn't a huge departure because Hawkins doesn't dig deep for his songs: he relies on shopworn standards, just as he did on the rock & roll oldies albums that immediately preceded it. Instead of Bo Diddley and Fats Domino, the Hawk sings no less than three songs each from Tim Hardin ("Black Sheep Boy," "Lady Came from Baltimore," "Reason to Believe") and Gordon Lightfoot ("Early Morning Rain," "Rich Man's Spiritual," "Home from the Forest," recorded previously on Giant of Rock & Roll), plus songs by Bob Dylan ("Girl from the North Country") and his old running partner Robbie Robertson ("Long Black Veil"). Almost all of these were frequently covered in the early '70s and while Hawkins doesn't reinvent these tunes -- the arrangements are steeped in mid-'70s conventions, from the interweaving of six- and 12-string guitars to gentle murmuring strings -- he does a very nice job here, giving these songs warm, gentle readings that may not be unexpected but they are welcome. And so is The Hawk in Winter as a whole: as it turns out, Ronnie had many decades of rocking left in him, but only in 1976 could he have gotten as reflective as he does here on this nice, understated LP.
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