Bobby Hawk’s first solo album Lights On Kinks Out is one of those releases that requires a few listens. After my first run-through, I thought “meh.” The second left me a bit more positive. When I heard it for the third time, I thought “This isn’t half bad” — which here in England means it’s good.
I suspect the problem with the first two runs was that a lot of it sounds very similar and monotone. Hawk (aka Robert Hecht) has a lovely baritone bordering on bass, but he doesn’t exercise much range. Only as you delve deeper does the subtlety of the work start to come through.
A stand-out track (at least, for me) is “Salt and Liquor.” It is a modern folk song about old-fashioned enjoyment of the basics of life:
One cabin, no electricity
One pretty mama is more than enough for me
A wood burning stove, a falconer’s glove
Some meat on the spit, and a good woman’s love
Keep it simple, babe, keep it simple.
It has some extremely nice electric or electrified fiddle, which is not overly surprising given Hawk’s background as a jazz, bluegrass, and country fiddler with the likes of Abigail Washburn. (He does play a lot of guitar on this album, however, finding it more conducive to songwriting.)
Hawk follows up “Salt and Liquor” with a number about how it can all go wrong. “States Apart” is a proggy dirge about surviving breakup: “You fucked me up and spat me out / But my feet are firm, my stance is strong / You can keep your crazy, and I’ll keep mine / And I’ll be here, living free.:
When I say “proggy dirge,” this is a good thing. The song, which features some excellent jazzy sax, carries your mind off nicely.
If all this seems rather personal, it probably is. The PR blurb accompanying the album says Hawk wrote the album after a personal breakup, which is sad but can be a magnificent spur to creativity. Hence lines like this from the delightfully rocky track “Hammer” (which sounds in parts like the theme to History Network’s Vikings): “She brought me to my knees, I begged her please, please don’t go / She is a hammer, I am a brass rail, she makes me ring.”
Lights On Kinks Out is more subtle than the lyrics imply, and as subtlety by definition is not in-your-face, listening to Hawk’s opus to may not grab you right off the bat. But if you give it a bit of time you may find yourself saying “Hey, this isn’t half bad.”