Unlike the majority of “retro” leaning contemporary music, which tends to sound over studied and therefore drearily contemporary, Hawk Tubley really could have been on the radio in 1974. This Philadelphia solo act may be shackled to the Christian name “George” in day-to-day life, but when making music he’s Hawk Tubley. The moniker came to him in a dream. One must always listen to what happens during the REM sleep pattern.
Thankfully, he remembered the name upon regaining consciousness. It’s a fitting title for music that leans heavy on circular Dead rhythms and often detours into grittier, urban Hawkwind territory. This isn’t to say that the music is in any way derivative. The six tracks on the Chocolate Maple Squeeze Play EP are genre fluid in the best possible sense. On “Danger Zone”, for example, the Bruce Hornsby piano rolls and triumphant acoustic strums may trick you into thinking this were some sort of “we shall overcome” boomer anthem, but listen deeper and lyrics such as “Dirty streets/dirty minds…. dislocated rendezvous. I sent a message through” strike a paranoid tech void stance before the song switches up completely into a Spiders From Mars crashing outro featuring not one but two wild-ass guitar solos. This is a song you can’t really define or pigeon hole.
Then there’s “Ode to Septa”, the most overtly Garcia-leaning track, but Jerry himself would never have covered such non-epic subject matter (a public bus arriving late) over such “Bird Song”-level epic backing, a nice trick that Tubley pulls off through sheer emotive passion. “City bus, you broke my heart” Hubley’s voice cracks in convincing fashion. The Hollies may have reveled in the joy of public transportation on “Bus Stop”, but Tubley is plunged into a world where his “flowers turn from red to brown” due to sheer bureaucratic incompetence, like a hippie Gogol. “You best be sure when the rain does fall, you’ll never see that bus at all.”
Hawk T. keeps the music bouncy and playful even when covering the most dire of subject matter, his choppy acoustic fills looping in and out of the haze like a lifeline. His backing band, The Ozymandians featuring Dave Cope of Sass on the keys, kicks up a righteous wall of noise that adds power to Tubley’s warped tunesmithery but never gets in the way. There are sections of “Hadn’t Oughta” that rock so hard they verge on metal, but when it’s over you’re still left humming the chorus melody.
If you’re into the genre of classic-rock singers whose voices fall under the category of “acquired taste” (hello Neil and Bobby D!) then Hawk T. may be right up your alley with his strange honk of a voice, somewhere between a Bowie croak and They Might Be Giants, and like those artists he crafts songs good enough and with enough emotional weight to override any vocal difficulties.
Chocolate Maple Squeeze Play is out now, and we’re looking forward to a full LP from The Hawk sometime soon.