Hawktail features some of the finest players of a generation in traditional American acoustic music. The product of their collaboration, "Formations," is a testament to the musical milieu in which they create. As an integrated work, "Formations" weaves lively beautiful threads of melodies and expansive playing into a rich fabric of music.
Each of the members of Hawktail is a solid traditional player. Fiddle player Brittany Haas has played in Crooked Still, played on the road as part of Dave Rawlings touring show. Dominick Leslie, a preternaturally gifted mandolinist, played in the late, lamented Deadly Gentlemen. Paul Kowert is the bassist for the Punch Brothers, and Jordan Tice is an acoustic guitarist in the mold of Tony Rice.
It's tempting to think of one or the other of these musicians as the driving creative force behind "Formations." But that inquiry goes sadly wrong because it changes from cut to cut. So, for example, "Annabjorg" is (mostly) all fiddle, the domain of Brittany Haas. Her long bowing and sneaky smooth attack seal the deal.
Then again, "Dandelion" starts with Tice's guitar line, but soon becomes that rare bass-melody Americana tune; Haas bends her fiddle to the counterpoint of Kowert's bass, and one begins to expect that Kowert is holding the driving hand here. This whipsaw continues throughout with Leslie and Tice making their bids for primacy. The outcome of all this toing and froing is ensemble playing at its best.
"Formations" was produced with Kowert fellow Punch Brother Chris Eldridge alongside; mixed by Dave Sinko, it features clarity and brightness. It's a collection that is instantly, and comfortably, familiar, but will bring the listener back again to enjoy the individual contributions and flourishes of the individual members.