I got my copy of The Hawkeyes “One Plug in the Wall” back in November 2015. I’ve been procrastinating this review because I wasn’t quite sure how to put into words how this piece of Pittsburgh-based American rock ‘n’ roll was resonating with me. However, now that it’s summer, I can finally listen to this album the way it was meant to be listened to: turned way up, diving down I-680 with the windows down.
I’m just a slow train keepin’ on my honor to the promised land…
One Plug is the band’s latest LP, its second full-length studio album since releasing “Goodbye Americana” in 2013. Pop it in and press play, and it kicks off the way any American rock album worth its salt does; drumsticks clicking off the tempo, downstroke guitar intro chords, lots of reverb, and a quick “Yeah!” before the lead track, ‘Miracle Man’, gives you its lead melody.
From a story about a fugitive running from the law, to testifying the trials and tribulations of a band trying to make it by playing “every smoke-filled room, half full, screamin’ on deaf ears,” One Plug showcases the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that’s familiar to every blue jean-wearing, cold beer-drinking, Marlboro Red-smoking fan who grew up in the blue-collar towns of western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio.
It’s loaded with the kind of arrangements found in Nashville and the alt-country scene; punk-inspired power chords with working-class sentimentality and a little bit of country twang. The band makes no effort to tidy up its working-class image with “One Plug in the Wall,” an album that refers to the band’s practice space: a storage room about the size of a meat locker in a small town north of Pittsburgh. There’s only one electrical outlet for the band to power its gear (see the album’s cover art). This forced The Hawkeyes to strip down their music to the bare essentials and to truly soak themselves in some blue-collar inspiration (i.e. sweat..no air conditioning).
That inspiration fueled the parallels that The Hawkeyes draw when comparing the back-breaking work that the former steel town identifies with, to being a touring band who doesn’t have a big ticket recording contract. The album’s title track sums it up nicely with the verse:
“Got a wife and a kid and a house ya own,
Gotta leave ‘em behind for parts unknown.
Ya had a real good thing for yourself at hand,
Now you done f**ked up and joined a rock ‘n’ roll band.”
What might seem like an impulsive decision made by someone who couldn’t give up the rock ‘n’ roll dream, can be applied to anyone who’s had to make a difficult decision between a) working a job that pay the bills and kills you slow, or b) taking a chance on a new job that’s risky, but could give your family a better life while giving you a life that’s worth living. Regardless of industry or trade of choice, we’ve all made those tough decisions that require sacrifice, whether it’s relocating from your hometown, or traveling more than we would like. But we do it with the hope that it will lead to bigger and better things.
Ultimately, it’s a song that speaks to the question of what you will regret most when you’ve reached the end of your life — what you did, or what you didn’t do.
The rest of the album is dressed with imagery and metaphors that can only be appreciated living in the so-called rust belt, like “the bills stacking up like that goddamn lake-effect snow” in ‘Davenport’, or the road salt that stains the sides of a “beat up ‘96 truck” driving down the highway in ‘7 & a Quarter’.
Other elements are more common throughout working-class America. Cautionary tales of drugs and alcoholism while working a soul-sucking 8 to 5 shift earning minimum wage are prevalent, boldly painting a regrettable yet realistic picture of the struggles of the midwest’s working class. The Hawkeyes’ upbeat, hard-rocking tempo belies their intent; they do not glorify or romanticize these situations in anyway. In truth, One Plug addresses the very real issues faced by the dwindling middle class in America, addressing their fears and concerns, and the eventual consequences of an area struck by a stagnant economy.
Musically, this is the first album featuring former Jay Wiley Band lead guitarist, Michael Grego, who replaced original Hawkeyes’ six-slinger, Nick Libeg, in late 2014. The change gives the band a different sheen that people who are familiar with its earlier releases will notice. When Libeg was slinging guitar, his blend of solid lead with a sonically rich sound achieved with multiple effects and pedals gave The Hawkeyes an edge that put them somewhere between traditional rock and something altogether their own.
Grego has honed his craft with the roots of rock ‘n’ roll, bringing a bolder, more Brian Venable-style of playing to The Hawkeyes that gives One Plug a much different flavor. I’ll admit, I initially thought the change in lineup would soften the aforementioned edge…but the album’s fourth track put that presumption to rest.
After the band warms us up with the “traditional rock” of ‘Miracle Man’, ‘Ghost’, and ‘Davenport’, the guys sharpen their teeth for the fourth track and dig into ‘Hours & Miles’. With plenty of high-octane rock riffage, Grego not only keeps the band’s edge lethal, but has helped them redefine some of their music while keeping true to The Hawkeyes’ sound signature
One Plug brings all of the guts and relentlessness of the Hawkeyes’ attack that’s been the band’s hallmark, and the album keeps that intensity until it ends appropriately with, ‘Had Enough’, finally giving us a chance to sit down and breathe.
Of course, we haven’t had enough, so here’s hoping The Hawkeyes don’t leave us waiting long for their next album.
Listen to “One Plug in the Wall” on Spotify, and check the band’s tour dates on its newly revamped website, hawkeyesband.com.