Greg Hawks served as John Howie Jr.'s right-hand man in the early Two Dollar Pistols and also led his own band, the Tremblers. With the latter he released the underappreciated Fool's Paradise, which included a Tex-Mex-leaning take on Springsteen's "Tougher Than the Rest" and a title track that's one of the great lost songs of this state's alt-country prime. Although both those outfits would sometimes plug in and turn up, Hawks never drifted far from his musical roots. Thus, Coming Home—a magnificently arranged and executed album of bluegrass and vintage-sounding country— is driven by the spirit of rediscovery, not reinvention. And while it does look to the past for musical inspiration, it's not at all uncomfortable in the now.
Guests occasionally drop in on banjo and fiddle, but mostly it's Hawks—a roots virtuoso with both a steady hand and a light touch—on guitar, mandolin and other stringed things. He wouldn't get showy or waste a note on a double-dare, but a pair of potent instrumentals (including public-domain piece "Temperance Reel," one of two non-Hawks tunes here) makes it clear he's capable of doing what the tune demands.
Hawks obliges the country-album rule of including at least a couple of songs about hearts in trouble, but Coming Home is dominated rather by a steadfastness of love—be it for music, family or place. The witty "Some Things are Better Left Alone" (power lines and creosote for starters) acknowledges the "lonesome sound of ol' George Jones." "Train of Love," as heartfelt as it is gorgeous, honors a woman whose selfless love continues to roll on. And "Simple Pleasures" offers thanks for, among many other things, the morning sun in the Carolina sky. The title tune, though, gets the key line, a love triple-shot: "Now the road I want to travel's a little driveway made of gravel/ On a shady Piedmont hill in Caroline/ Where the trees sway in the breeze whispering sweet melodies."
Greg Hawks has made that short but rewarding trip home, and the surroundings clearly suit him.
Greg Hawks plays The ArtsCenter Friday, Jan. 11, at 8:30 p.m. He'll release Coming Home at the show. Tickets are $13.