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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ron Hawkins - Straightjacket Love

Ron Hawkins - Straightjacket Love
2011, Ron Hawkins

There is a point in time and space where music, art and life intersect in mysterious ways.  It is a place where truths are lost and found; a place where magic happens.  All great songwriters strive for this marriage of time, place and muse, and even the greatest miss it more often than not.  Ron Hawkins has been dancing about the edges of this vortex for the past two decades, quietly carving out a niche as one of the finest songwriters of his generation.  First as a member of legendary Canadian rockers Lowest of the Low, and later in various solo incarnations, Ron Hawkins has built an impressive catalog of songs built on raw honesty and a master craftsman's ear for words and melody.  Hawkins recently released his 8th solo album, Straightjacket Love, drawing from country, rock and blues styles to create one of his most dynamic and satisfying works to date.

Straightjacket Love opens with "One Hundred Five", a comfortable country/folk/rock number that wastes no time showing off Hawkins' talent at turning a phrase: "And we tug our time like ragged sleeves / and our days we wear 'em thin / we scatter them like pumpkin seeds / oh breath into the wind."  It's a song of love built from long survival together and filled with an acceptance of profundity and imperfection side by side, illuminate by the light of life's limitations.  With a simple arrangement and amazing depth, Hawkins outlines what will become an album born of love songs, but rooted in the real world understanding of someone who has seen the trenches and knows that every moment is a real gift.  "Corner Room" explores distances that can never be overcome, even from one room away.  References to history are both personal and musical, and Hawkins creates a moment of angst in music that's so real it's painful.  The song is a gorgeous testament to the emotional baggage that we all carry when something good falls apart.

"The Sickness (That's What They Call Love)" is a wonderful little alt-country celebration of love.  Catchy and sweet without ever stepping into cliché, the song features a swaying chorus you can't help but sing along to.  "Hong Kong Station" is a love song written far from home on a long train ride, where contemplation turns to truth.  This one feels like it could have been a Lowest of the Low number, but is gussied up here with an Americana sound.  Hawkins has always had a talent for romanticizing the desolate moments in song, and repeats the feat with "Waitin' On Something That's Already Here".  It's a gentle calling out of someone afraid to commit that's well-written and performed with a bare honesty that's heartbreaking. 

Hawkins returns to the blues-influenced folk/rock of his early solo career (Secrets Of My Excess) with "Black".  It's a bit of musical self-flagellation decorated with remorse and hope for forgiveness, and surrounded by wonderful instrumental cameos that create a distinctive impression.  This song will get stuck in your head and stay there, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to find this song licensed for a movie somewhere down the line.  "Kill The Lights" seems to vacillate grandly between trying to get better and giving up the fight, in a life where demons both inborn and acquired bear down on the narrator's soul.  The quietly edgy guitar work serves as a counter to the almost dirge-like incantation to hold off the night, and Hawkins delivers chants the chorus with an urgency that's chilling.

Hawkins changes pace with "Company Ink", a story-song where a chance meeting and time create the circumstances for a deep fall full of competing uncertainties and profound truths.  The song explores the dichotomy of love, of being lost and found all at once.  Hawkins wraps it all up in a cute, 1970's singer/songwriter pastiche, and delivers some wonderfully subtle lyrics in the process: "I met you in July as they showed you around the floor / I filed your name away but it rattled in my drawer."  The song is a true wow moment on an album full of them.

"Straightjacket Love" heads for the honky-tonk in a catchy country/rock exploration of love, freedom and attachment.  Don't bother trying to sit still, and forget getting this number out of your head for some time to come.  "Lucky Street Lazarus" is a kiss-off song to a prior romantic offender trying to waltz back into his life.  This is pure Ron Hawkins in a bouncy, rock arrangement that would be at home in either a solo or Lowest of the Low set.  Once again, try to get this song out of your head; it's next to impossible.   

Hawkins saves his most powerful works for last.  "Diamonds In The Water" finds the narrator coming to terms with a rough history while making amends and dealing with the mental and emotional detritus of a hard life.  Here we see a man exploring his current frame of reference while making sense of the past; afraid of losing both in a wash of tides he has little or no control over.  This is songwriting at its most powerful and raw, even when steeped in imagery and ideas open to wide swings interpretation.  The image of the title, the letting go of valuable thoughts by someone for whom memory is a valuable commodity is gut-wrenching and brilliant.  Hawkins wraps things up with a silly little love song, in his own fashion, with "Prairie Girl".  It's a charmingly catchy little number that grabs you by the lapel and pulls you along; knowing no matter how dark the past may have been, right now the sun is shining bright.  And that's enough.

Ron Hawkins continues to dig closer and closer to his own personal truths on Straightjacket Love, striving like a miner to find what's real in the structure of song.  On what is perhaps his most personal and compelling work to date, Hawkins delivers an entertaining blend of celebration, rumination and remorse from the building blocks of country, rock, folk and blues.  Magic both lyrical and melodic abounds on Straightjacket Love, an album that captures you like a great book and is over before you realize a moment's passed.  You'll find yourself returning again and again, looking for the subtle, ineffable gems Hawkins uncovers in his continued search for understanding.  Straightjacket Love is mesmerizing, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc, and an album you simply cannot afford to miss.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ron Hawkins at www.ronhawkins.comStraightjacket Love drops May 31, 2011, but you can order it now in both CD and instant download versions from  Be sure to poke around while you’re there – it’s a great site for artists to sell their music while keeping most of the proceeds.

1 comment:

beverly mccaffrey said...

You have captured with exquisite feeling and writing the amazing world of Ron's music and songwriting. Your layers of interpretation are perfect for the fine renditions of his album.