Unless – 2018 (Padiddle)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Hawktail

"Hawktail" is spare, yet beautifully textured. These are craftsmen at work. They can't be in it for the money, since "Hawktail," despite its bona fides as a musician's centerpiece, doesn't tick any of the boxes that bode musical success. No matter; this is a work to savor, to listen to and enjoy.

Each member has staked out an admirable musical career. If possible, Hawktail represents a supergroup of lesser-known talents in the bluegrass/traditional music scene. Individually, they shine. Collectively, they mesh.

Paul Kowert, bassist, is probably the best-known of the bunch. He is one of five Punch Brothers, perhaps the most technically proficient band in the Americana firmament. Punch Brothers, however, can get too clever, owing to their leader, Chris Thile. Kowert excels in smaller assemblages; the more he separates himself, they more startling his playing (see for example, "Unless," the title cut).

Hawktail is a string band, so that means there's a fiddle. Brittany Haas is as fine a fiddler as can be imagined, notably sweetening the instrument with long bowing and succinct flow. Haas' work here is admirable. Guitar features Jordan Tice, who presented a clinic on writing and playing on his "Horse County" solo release a couple of years ago.

The careful reader will note that these three toured as Haas, Kowert and Tice (HKT) on the festival and club circuit. So, then, what's new to the mix? Dominick Leslie is what's new. He plays mandolin smoothly, with great clarity. Leslie was part of the late lamented Deadly Gentlemen, and has popped up here and there, but his addition to HKT, and its transformation into Hawktail, helps the other three to deliver the goods. Leslie is really good, but doesn't overpower. In fact, that can be said of each of the members of Hawktail; however talented the players are individually (as they are), their solo skills are sublimated to the whole sound.