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Finally Friday: The Hawthorns and The Holy Know-Nothings

Michael Becker

Back in the early 2000s when I covered country music on a weekly basis, I frequently thought how great it would be if Faith Hill or Shania Twain would just sing better material. They weren’t without their moments on record, but by and large they brought stellar voices and commercial savvy to songs that were too often saccharine and/or produced like something layered in bubble wrap to keep those soccer moms in the country radio demographic from feeling anything too acutely. That memory struck me listening to the superb and savvy voice of KP Hawthorn, the lead singer and songwriting partner behind The HawtThorns, the band she leads with her guitar slinging husband Johnny Hawthorn. KP has Hill’s power and grace and Twain’s seductive velvet vibrato, and I could listen to her all day, because the songs on their sophomore album Tarot Cards And Shooting Stars are grippy and twangy and flowing with melody.

KP and Johnny are well-traveled and experienced musical pros from California. He’s been a solo artist, a touring rocker with Toad The Wet Sprocket and an instrumentalist who’s been profiled by Guitar Player magazine. As Kirstin Proffit, she launched a career in the 2000s, including a band with the awesome Jaime Wyatt and Manda Mosher called CALICO. When Kirstin and Johnny met and joined forces in every which way, they launched The HawtThorns (Hawthorns? Hot Thorns?) with the 2019 album Morning Sun. Thus did the advent of their touring and audience-building crash right into the pandemic. So the couple moved to Nashville, where they burrowed right into writing and producing this new album, which arrives Feb. 25.

So far they’ve released the singles “All The Right Reasons,” which has all the sparky country rock hallmarks of a great 1990s Patty Loveless jam, and “Let’s Get Together,” a gorgeous and uplifting spiritual. I’m also fixated on upcoming songs “Keep It Alive,” with some of that same heart-swelling energy and lush harmony, as well as “One Human At A Time,” an emotional showcase for KP’s up-front and candid singing. The guitar fanatic in me is never let down either because Mr. Hawthorn is always there with clicking themes, sonic embellishments and ripping solos. If you can’t tell, I dig this record, and their live-in-studio videos suggest some fine country rock is awaiting us at lunch on Friday.

From the dive bar side of Americana-town, the Holy Know-Nothings are a pearl snaps and work boots bar band led by Taylor Kingman, a honky tonk beat poet who writes riveting songs. A newspaper in the band’s hometown of Portland had this to say about their 2019 recorded debut: “Arguably OK is a fitting companion to your Haggard, Jennings, and Van Zandt records. And although the myth of the outlaw poet has waned in the new century, songwriters like Kingman prove that same gritty spirit is still around, just waiting for someone to embody it.”

On last fall’s sophomore effort The Incredible Heat Machine, we hear Kingman’s mind jetting around between the times that try mens’ souls and the comforts of a barstool with words that tumble out in a Kerouacian flood. On the opener “Frankenstein,” over a restrained country shuffle, he sings: “In the mouth of my pride, my mind opened wide/And it slipped through cracks in my bones' fearful criеs/Each reason competing to build me a highway to ridе.” Elsewhere he’s just weird and funny. This, with recent work from recent guest Margot Cilker and Anna Tivel reminds us that the pacific northwest is brimming with literary rootsy talent.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org