Friday, September 8, 2017

FIRST IMPRESSION: Lowest of the Low - Do The Right Now

As a writer, Ron Hawkins has always matched the universal with the specific, marrying concepts like love and loss to tangible places, events and people.  It’s one of his greatest strengths and the reason why albums like “Shakespeare, My Butt” are still rabidly venerated more than a quarter century after their release.  That landmark record, written when Hawkins was 26 years old and coming into his artistic own as a boho Marxist in the funkier parts of Toronto, now finds its mirror image in the fantastic “Do The Right Now”.  An answer record of sorts (released the year Hawkins turned 52 – a neat 26 years after “Shakespeare”), the new album finds Hawkins and his compatriots (original drummer David Alexander and longtime sideman Lawrence Nichols are joined here by two of Hawkins’ Do Good Assassins bandmates) adding several new classics to their canon. 

The songs may deal with getting older, but still crackle with the energy of youth. “Powerlines”, the album’s opener and first single, reflects on the changes that time has had on both his city and his own creative mythology by revisiting Caroline, a character who first appeared in “The Taming of Carolyn” 26 long years ago. A stand-in for Hawkins and the band itself, Caroline is dealing with the expectations that come with being older on the outside but still repeating those same stupid, youthful behaviors that made you feel alive as a twenty-something.  Hawkins ends the song with the implication that the only way out is to jump – into the abyss of adulthood or off the top of a building is left up to the listener, and it’s kind of harrowing and perfect.  

Several of the other songs chime and churn like classic Low – the propulsive “Gerona Train” (itself a rewrite of a song from Hawkins’ pre-LOTL band, Popular Front); the echoey, finger-picked “Sister Jude” featuring Nichols’ melodic harmonica lines; the rapid-fire wordplay and alliteration of “Immortal” – but it’s the departures that find the band really branching out. The dark, downcast “Minuteman” and the burbling tale of regret, “California Gothic”, show that not only has Hawkins’ writing grown but so has the sound of the band, reaching into spaces both darker and more brutal with a subtlety that the Low of old simply couldn’t muster.  And perhaps that’s the point – we fetishize youth as a time when an artist’s truth is revealed and channeled into their work.  Everything after is, like Caroline, simply chasing that high.  Kudos, then, to Ron Hakwins for breaking free of that fallacy and releasing a work equal in heart, vitality and wit to the golden albatross of “Shakespeare”. As he so deftly puts it on the album’s title track, “tomorrow’s a lie and yesterday’s gone / You’ve got to do the right now”.  Indeed. 

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