Though Greg Hawks' debut mixes strong elements of Bakersfield and Austin with a hint of the Beatles (by way of co-North Carolinian Chris Stamey's chiming dB's production touches), the emotional tenor often resounds more of folk singer Phil Ochs. It's not that Hawks tilts at political windmills, it's that he often captures the sort of romanticism Ochs found later in his career. Springsteen's "Tougher Than the Rest" is delivered with a tenderness and intimacy that liberates it from the plodding epicness of the original. Drummer Nate Stalfa's gentle brushes underline the melancholy in a way that E-streeter Max Weinberg couldn't fathom.
The title track provides a powerful barside purge of sadness and frustration, while "Downtown Lights" leans on superb droning, mountain-influenced vocals that bring the pain of unforgettable memories out of the shadows. "When You Tell Me Lies" weds the same sort of wail to a bent, blue melody, ringing mandolin and a New Orleans cadence. Throughout, bandmate and co-producer Danny Kurtz (ex-Backslider/Whiskeytown) adds steady bass and backing vocals, and Mike Krause provides terrifically atmospheric electric guitars such as the sliding moans and wails of "Life and Love."