Monday, March 23, 2015


Ron Hawkins has a bit of a disclaimer for folks.  Even though the veteran Canadian singer-songwriter's latest album features more acoustic and calmer versions of his songs than normal, he is not mellowing.  "I've read some reviews of the album, and that's what people have picked up on, because I turned 50 in November, and they think I'm calming down with this album," explains Hawkins from home in Toronto.

In fact, the situation leading to the recording of Garden Songs by Ron Hawkins and the Do Good Assassins was anything but an excess of calmness.  Hawkins has been exploding with songs with this new band, ever since the recording of the 2012 double-CD debut, Rome.  In his mind, the next album was going to be more of the same.  "It was a bit of a left turn, we had another record ready to make, another double album of raucous rock and roll, cinematic pop,  all set to go," says Hawkins.  "But this is my manager's idea, we had these four extra songs that didn't fit, more introspective.  I thought, maybe we'll make a four or five track EP, bid farewell to the country-soul aspect of the band right now.  But he said, 'Why don't you do this as a one-off, instead of making the next album a triple?'"

Next, manager William "Skinny" Tenn suggested going back to older material, and finding songs that might lend themselves to more laid-back arrangements, in new interpretations.  That meant Hawkins and the band tried out material from his previous solo work, as well as albums from his groups Lowest of the Low and The Rusty Nails.  Even Rome, recorded the most recently, saw two of its songs re-worked in this fashion.  "There's a song Propellors that was on the last album, and I never thought we got that quite right sonically," he admits.  "So this is more like I'd envisioned it I think."

Ironically, and happily, after releasing thirteen different albums in his 20-plus year career, Garden Songs is gaining him some of the best attention he's had since the Canadian classic debut from Lowest of the Low, Shakespeare My Butt.  Single Peace and Quiet (originally from 2007's Chemical Sounds) has made the CBC Radio 2 Top Ten.  It's quite a change for a guy who has faithfully toiled away while others have described him as one of the country's hidden gems.  "It's been a great thing," he says of the disc's acceptance.  "I come across this a lot, and it's hard for me to feel under-appreciated, I feel quite blessed in fact to be doing this for twenty years, I'm pretty damned pleased with how it came out.  But I've definitely seen a bump in album sales and audience attendance, with CBC playing a couple of singles.  People are calling me that I had to chase around before.  Incremental things, but I can notice the change."

Part of the attraction is the stripped-down delivery of the songs.  Hawkins' long-standing ability to spin a tale is now upfront in the mix, with his voice and lyrics gaining most of the attention.  He writes most of these in the first person, slices of life, mostly not his own, but full of moments with which we can relate.  "It's just the writer's thing," he says.  "You develop your ear to find the universal in all the little details.  You look at it a little different than other people.  I just look at the world, and think, what's to be learned from this story.  Some of them are a bit closer to me though.  There's a song on there called Saskia Begins, about a friend of mine, Mick Thomas from the Australian band Weddings Parties Anything.  He and his wife Jen had a baby but three months early.  The baby, Saskia, was in an incubator, and when I heard about it, I just had to sit down and write, I felt like I had to help, it was almost like fight or flight to me.  And later Jen told me they used to listen to it when they drove to see Saskia in the incubator."

It's also one of the songs that would have been out of place on that proposed raucous double-album.  It's still in the cards, of course, ready for the next go-round.  For now, Hawkins has the enjoyable problem of having to play more shows and work this collection, an album that wasn't even in the cards.  Ron Hawkins will be at The Carleton in Halifax Friday, March 27.

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