By Eric DuVall
Greater Niagara Newspapers
This ain’t Ron Hawkins’ first rodeo.
It isn’t his first band, either, but the double-disc debut from Hawkins’ latest outfit, Do Good Assassins, is infused with the unmistakable go-big-or-go-home ethos that has earned him his dedicated fan base in Western New York and Southern Ontario over his 30 year career.
Hawkins, frontman for the (mostly) disbanded Lowest of the Low, and his latest bandmates have compiled an uncommon set of songs — uncommon because they cross genres and traverse the musical landscape — and have compiled them on a once-sacred but now almost unheard of double album.
To hear Hawkins describe it, “Rome” is woven from strings of decadence and decay. It’s an apt metaphor for a medium that includes some of rock’s greatest offerings: “London Calling,” “Blonde on Blonde” and “Exile on Main Street” to name a few.
Decadent music and a decaying art form. These are places Hawkins knows. And he fully acknowledges walking in to that space, a musician should be wary.
“We called it ‘Rome’ as a double debut disk,” Hawkins said by phone from his home in Toronto. “How ballsy can we be with the first record for this band?”
To be sure there’s no lack of courage in this offering, but after decades spent earning an audience Hawkins figures if it feels right it’s worth the risk. The first disc is all country, very much in the mold of his two most recent solo offerings, “10 Kinds of Lonely” and “Straightjacket Love.” The second disc is the kind of tight and tough rock-and-roll that first garnered attention with Lowest of the Low.
Those loyal fans will get their chance to hear the entire new catalogue, front to back, in back-to-back shows at Mohawk Place in Buffalo Friday and Saturday nights.
“I’ve got enough of a hardcore audience that are really into the songwriting, lyrics, etc., that they’ll give us this set of shows,” he said.
From the opening chord of the rock half of “Rome,” “Sadder Days” — a clever play on Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” — Hawkins’ longtime fans will feel like they’ve slid into the corner stool at their favorite old watering hole for a good long chat with an old friend.
But there’s not just nostalgia here. These are new songs and the vocal interplay between Hawkins and guitarist and contributing songwriter Steve Singh (Hawkins: “It seems like I always have to have another guy in the band named Steve playing guitar and writing songs”) makes perfect sense.
That fresh inspiration is evident in the writing. The harmonies jump and Hawkins’ raspy delivery meshes delicately with Singh’s smoother, prettier sound.
Hawkins said the opportunity to work with a new collaborator gave the album its juice.
“The whole idea inspired the hell out of me,” he said. “I was writing like a madman.”
Rock track “Home Sweet Home,” described as an irreverent ode to “friends (whose deaths) I would chalk up to the rock and roll lifestyles taking their toll,” closes with a classic Hawkins dart: “It takes a village to raise a child/Takes a city to bury it alive.”
The country half of “Rome” takes a mournful tone at times, offering reflections in verse and a stripped bare presentation that floats from song to song at times so slight it’s a wonder how these are songs at all. But they are, and they’re good ones.
The title track “Rome” closes the country side and sums up where The Do Good Assassins are headed:
“Through the long nights of ruin/To the mornings made of gold/We rise and we fall that way in Rome.”
Decadence. Decay. Reset and repeat. If “Rome” is where Hawkins is headed, it’s very much worth the trip.