For fans of Tyler Childers, Railroad Earth, Hard Working Americans, Greensky Bluegrass, Sturgill Simpson, and The High Hawks
Mother Nature’s Show
Sometimes an album’s theme will emerge during the recording process. And that’s exactly what happened with The High Hawks’ new album Mother Nature’s Show.
“It was total happenstance,” says High Hawk vocalist-guitarist Vince Herman. “As albums often do, you find an unconscious thread in them.”
The unconscious thread in Mother Nature’s Show is a musical travelogue that begins in the high country and ends at the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not a stretch to say the album takes the listener down Highway 61, the oft-called “Blues Highway” immortalized by Bob Dylan that follows the Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans, passing through St. Louis, Memphis and the Mississippi delta.
Most of the album was actually recorded in Minnesota at historic Pachyderm Studios in the small town of Cannon Falls, not far from the banks of the Mississippi and Highway 61, just 20 miles to the west. The sextet of roots music veterans arrived at Pachyderm on New Year’s Day 2023, a Sunday, and over the course of the year’s first week, they recorded the 12 tracks included on the record.
Mother Nature’s Show is the group’s second album, the follow-up to their acclaimed eponymous debut from 2021. Keyboardist-vocalist Chad Staehly finds significance in beginning work on the album on January 1.
“It was like, ‘All right, this is a new chapter, a new year,’” Staehly says. “It’s New Year's Day, and we're gathering together to make a record. There was something really cool about all that.”
Like Herman, the keyboardist also sees how the dozen songs on the record represent a musical travelogue.
“After I sat back and was able to digest the record, that really struck me as a strong thread,” he says. “It’s what the record is.”
It’s not surprising The High Hawks recorded a collection of songs that take the listener on a musical journey when you consider the group is a passion project comprised of six musical road warriors and friends who have logged hundreds of thousands of miles in their careers traveling the country from gig to gig.
Herman is best known as one of the two frontmen for Leftover Salmon and many people know Staehly from the jam band supergroup Hard Working Americans, but it’s the group they co-founded — Great American Taxi — that connects all the members of The High Hawks in one way or another. Bassist Brian Adams and drummer Will Trask were both members of Taxi, while vocalist-fiddler-guitarist Tim Carbone, best known as a member of Railroad Earth, produced two of GAT’s albums. In addition, vocalist-guitarist Adam Greuel of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades was influenced by Taxi in his teenage years and even played a few gigs with the group.
The High Hawks came together in late 2019 out of the members’ collective desire to make music with one another.
“We have a real common musical bond, and we just wanted to find a reason to hang out as birds of a feather and play tunes with each other,” Herman explains.
Staehly echoes that point. “Everyone is doing it for the love of it,” he says. “No one is seeking fame, no one is seeking a big paycheck. We’re doing it because it brings us so much joy.”
You can hear the joy in their new record, which was recorded while a blizzard raged outside the studio.
“There was a certain coziness to it,” Staehly says. “We were out in the woods, it was dumping snow, and it was just the work in front of us. It was really a great setting for making a record.”
The band had performed a few of the songs live prior to the recording sessions, including “Shine Your Blues,” “Top Shelf, Rock Bottom” and “Backwater Voodoo,” but for the most part, the arrangements came together in the studio. The High Hawks have four singer-songwriters — Carbone, Greuel, Herman and Staehly — so there was no shortage of material to choose from. They shared demo tapes with one another’s consideration in the months leading up to the sessions and arrived at Pachyderm with more than enough songs for the record.
“It was really a pretty efficient process,” Herman says. “We’d record during the day, and then at night, we’d go eat dinner, talk about what we were going to do the next day, work out some arrangements and how we were going to approach it.”
Of the dozen tracks included in the album’s final sequence, Herman and Greuel each had four songs, while Carbone and Staehly had two apiece. Each writer handled lead vocals on his own songs with the others providing backing vocals.
The album opens with Greuel’s high lonesome “Diamond Sky.” From there, Herman’s “Somewhere South” makes it obvious the direction the album’s compass is pointing — you can almost feel the weather getting warmer. That point is underscored by the title of the third track, Carbone’s “Temperature is Rising.”
The stories the band tells on the album tackle a range of subjects, from good times to bad. The aforementioned “Temperature is Rising” addresses the social media-driven, divisive world in which we live and wonders “if a friend is a friend.” The protagonist in Staehly’s “Fox River Blues” is “running from the past” and has “nothing to lose,” which leads to some desperate decisions that take him outside the law.
Several of the songs concern the circular nature of life. The hobo who stars in Herman’s “Top Shelf, Rock Bottom” is regularly down on his luck, but manages to land on his feet. In “Same Old Stories,” Greuel writes about the repetitive nature of the human condition, while the singer in Staehly’s “Radio Loud” goes from “on top of the world” to “the end of the line” before starting all over again.
The High Hawks easily traverse a variety of musical stylings on Mother Nature’s Show — from various rock flavors including Southern, country and psychedelic, as well as honky tonk and even a ballad and a waltz — while maintaining a sonic cohesiveness that claims each style as their own. The final stop on the band’s travelogue is Herman’s “Shine Your Blues,” a happy, bouncy number that musically references Louisiana Cajun music and New Orleans R&B.
The band’s performances throughout the record are top-notch, and there’s very little overdubbing. What you hear are six superb musicians in the Pachyderm tracking room, looking at one another, reacting in real time to what is being played and capturing the kind of musical magic that eludes recording artists who build their records part by part.
When asked about the authenticity of The High Hawks’ new album, Herman assures with a laugh, “AI had no part in the making of this record.”