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Haas Kowert Tice asked the question, what if? After forging their own brand of roots music—grounded in timeless tradition, top-shelf musicianship, and jubilant camaraderie—what if this trio of America’s finest string players became a quartet?
Brittany Haas (fiddle), Paul Kowert (bass), and Jordan Tice (guitar) own the sweat equity of a decade spent stoking the fires of their passion project. Haas, whose 2004 self-titled release instantly became the touchstone for a generation of old-time fiddlers, has since lent her sound to vocalist Michael Daves, the Live from Here radio variety show, and bands such as Crooked Still and the David Rawlings Machine, where she plays alongside Kowert, well known as the Punch Brothers’ virtuosic bass player. Tice is a rare guitar player whose music showcases his unique identity and a particular knack for songwriting. Haas Kowert Tice was a “special road” they could travel together, where communication was intuitive, then innovative, and where musical curiosity was boundless and inspiring for each as writers, players, and friends.
Enter Dominick Leslie, the versatile mandolinist whose rhythmic sensibility has made him ubiquitous on the acoustic music scene (Noam Pikelny, the Deadly Gentlemen). They had all known each other for years. The trio wanted the rhythmic backbone Leslie offered and another plectrum to balance the dueling bows of bass and fiddle. Leslie’s addition thickens the sound and tightens the groove, opening new creative doors. In short, Leslie is a great fit. Says Tice, “because of the time we shared coming up in the same scene, being inspired by the same music, and collaborating in various projects, Dominick was able to instantly find a voice in our music, seamlessly filling it out.” “They have such an established chemistry as a trio, jumping into the mix felt natural,” remarks Leslie.
Reborn a foursome, they recut the music for the next album. The release of Unless, in reality Hawktail’s debut, is certain to confirm that this quartet has found its wings. “It feels as though this is now a whole band capable of doing anything,” says Haas. “The music of Unless represents hours of creation, founded on our years as close friends. And I think you can hear that,” she continues. Kowert adds, “we strove to write strong tunes that could take us to different places while holding to a simple form, for a natural music that breathes. Melodies and basslines arrived together with a core sound, and arrangements seemed encoded in the tunes.”
With Unless, Hawktail has delivered an album of original instrumental music that showcases their unique talents. A mixture of recordings from the studio and from shows, this album was written to be played live for people in a room. The inclusiveness of that extends beyond the speakers: a finger on the string, a rush of energy when you least expect it—this is music made to be enjoyed.
While they are well versed in the old-time traditions, their music is fresh, lively, and consequential. In other words they are not imitators or replicators. As I said of them in my AmericanaFest wrap-up: ‘Without a doubt their set was my favorite of the week, a labyrinthine of complex yet accessible acoustic music that had me in a trance.’
One of our favorite ‘new’ groups