Hear First: Pat Irwin & J. Walter Hawkes’s Wide Open Sky

An album premiere, plus an introduction to it written by Cynthia Sley of the Bush Tetras.

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums — today’s is Pat Irwin & J. Walter Hawkes’s Wide Open Sky — we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Cynthia Sley of the legendary NYC post-punk band Bush Tetras shares her thoughts on the album, which you can also listen to right here.
—Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

After a few successful shows playing together, Pat Irwin and J Walter Hawkes recorded this collection of work written off each other’s cinematic tendencies. I am a sucker for cinematic tendencies. I can conjure up a whole reel of visuals to accompany this record. Think Spaghetti Westerns, Marcel Mastroiani, and electronic voodoo mixed altogether into one cosmic soup! They really succeed in having a sound that flows together with each track, while creating little vignettes that are each distinct and fascinating. I first listened to this on a grey November afternoon; it roped me in and took me places. Places I want to be. I love that the 10 tracks are connected by this invisible thread. There is no need to skip around. One follows the other like migrating birds.

“In Another Time: is such a great way to start this collection. It’s like the upbeat, wake-up call that grabs you by the seat of your pants and puts you in the driver’s seat.

“Automatic 3” has that 007 vibe, full of spies and intrigue, with some great Kraftwerk-esque vocals.

The title track, “Wide Open Sky,” is mournful and airy, the trombone lilting over the top. I closed my eyes and the movie played out.

“Apache,” Pat told me, was a carefully chosen cover. George Scott, bassist and music collector, listened to the Sugar Hill Gang version of this obscure tune and got inspired to form the Raybeats, an early ‘80s band formed by Pat and George. Why couldn’t they take old surf songs and make them into their own unique version? The perfect context for this version of “Apache,” which has more of the smoky, atmospheric guitar feel of the original by the Shadows.

Another track that stands out for me is “For A Dance.” The way the horn and guitar melodies slow dance together is a thing of beauty. It’s heartbreaking. Very Chet Baker. A time travel of sorts.

I’ve got it in heavy rotation on my player. I have a feeling it will feel right for any season.

— Cynthia Sley

(Photo Credit: left, Lesley Martin)

J. Walter Hawkes and Pat Irwin are friends, neighbors, composers for movies, television, and cartoons, and are both long time residents of Long Island City, Queens, New York. Hawkes (trombone, keyboards), is a four time Emmy Award winner and has contributed music to, among others, Peg + Cat, Wonder Pets, and Blues Clues. He’s a fixture on the NYC live music scene and has performed with, among others, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Madeleine Peyroux, and Taylor Mac. Irwin (guitar, keyboards, has composed the music for, among others, Nurse Jackie, Bored To Death, Rocko’s Modern Life, and SpongeBob SquarePants. He was founding member of the Raybeats and 8 Eyed Spy and performed with the B-52s for 18 years. He also is currently with a band called SUSS.  Both Irwin and Hawkes have a broad range of musical influences including contemporary classical music, jazz, and obscure rock & roll, and they share an obsession with vintage electronics and 8-bit computer music technology. They work these sounds and more in to their debut collaboration, Wide Open Sky. The record was made in both their studios in Long Island City and is an open letter to the neighborhood and a response to the over development and a reflection on the disappearing wide open sky.

(Photo Credit: Lesley Martin)