You Dress In Black, But You Talk Like a Fed: Hawks & Doves at 40

Reassessing a previously panned Neil Youg gem released at the cusp of the Reagan Years

Impressions of Hawks & Doves (Art: Ron Hart)

While its title might have suggested there was a more militant subterfuge, one that might have hinted at the anger and outrage Young would later express on such albums as Living with War and, more recently, The Times, Hawks & Doves was a decidedly restrained affair.

Its opening entries were dominated by his solitary guitar work and a downcast disposition, and the reminder took on a more fanciful attitude and down home approach. The name most likely referenced the fact that the album was recorded at different times, with side one dating back to material that was written between 1974 and 1977, and the second side culled from tracks that had a more recent vintage, circa 1980 when the album was released. It also served as a duality between the outgoing Carter administration and the incoming Reagan administration.  

Impressions of Hawks & Doves 2 (Art: Ron Hart)

Indeed, there is a certain disparity between those two sets of songs, one that’s based on quality as opposed to quantity. Hawks & Doves is uncommonly measured, weighing in at under half an hour, which makes it one of Young’s briefest sojourns overall. Taken in tandem with the fact that he had to cull outtakes — both “Little Wing” and “The Old Homestead” were intended for the aborted (and recently released) Homegrown album, which was originally slated for release in 1975 — there’s a generally uneven feel to the album in its entirety. However, while Hawks & Doves made its appearance on November 3, the day before the election that catapulted Ronald Reagan into office, there possibly could have been some symbolic importance. 

Impressions of Hawks & Doves 3 (Art: Ron Hart)

The first half of the album certainly follows a familiar template, given the mellow drift that characterizes “Little Wing,” the easy amble of “The Old Homestead” and the softer sensibilities of “Lost In Space,” which, ironically, does find Young yearning for simpler circumstance — “Gardening again, Landscaping again” — and expressing his desire to rid himself of “the deep sea blues.” The mood changes considerably with part two, which boasts some of the most country-oriented, down home songs of Young’s career. The loping pace of Stayin’ Power, the jaunty fiddle playing in Coastline and the folk-like finesse of Union Man (with its simulated town hall dialogue) and the carefree, countrified Comin’ Apart At Every Nail find him in a similar melodic mode as Harvest, Harvest Moon and American Stars N Bars. It represented one of the many side roads Young’s pursued throughout his career, but even now, it remains a viable one indeed.

Impressions of Hawks & Doves 4 (Art: Ron Hart)

At any rate, it certainly seemed a strange juxtaposition at the time, given that it was sandwiched between the aggressive onslaught of Live Rust and the otherwise off-kilter attempts at experimentation procured through re-ac-tor. Given that it preceded the assassination of John Lennon and the tumult and turbulence that coincided with Reagan’s time in office, there was likely reason for the restraint.

At the time, it was largely dismissed as one of Young’s weaker records. But now, looking back in retrospect, Hawks & Doves certainly falls in line with a seminal style that’s survived his chameleon-like twists and turns. At very least, it deserves renewed reexamination.

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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