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Hawktail is the instrumental acoustic quartet of fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, guitarist Jordan Tice, and mandolinist Dominick Leslie. Though at first glance Hawktail looks like a superpicker side-project, their all-original music is cohesive and unique, distinguishing them as an ensemble with a sound built from the ground up. Flush with orchestral sweeps and sparse vigils, with strains of the American South and the North Atlantic, this cosmopolitan sound is not what you'd expect from a string band.
Each member of Hawktail brings a strong individuality to the project. Haas's 2004 self-titled release instantly became the touchstone for a generation of old-time fiddlers. She has since lent her sound to Crooked Still, Live From Here, and Steve Martin. Haas also has been featured in David Rawlings's band, where she played alongside Kowert—best known as the virtuosic bass player from the Grammy-winning Punch Brothers. Tice is a rare guitar player whose music showcases his unique identity and a particular knack for song and tune-writing. Leslie is a versatile mandolinist whose rhythmic sensibility has made him ubiquitous on the acoustic music scene for over a decade. Something special happens when these four musicians unite as Hawktail. Together they have fostered a reputation as a rare ensemble of composers and instrumentalists able to take the listener on a journey without the use of words.
The release of Hawktail's new record, Formations, comes just over a year after their debut, Unless. Unlike the arduous three-year process of writing and recording their first album, Formations came about quickly—written in two months and recorded in four days at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville. "We had studio dates to record a quick EP of covers, arrangements we'd been playing live," explains Kowert, "but we had these strong starts that felt so good that we were like, 'Let's finish these instead.' " Adds Haas, "We found a new joy in creating, tapping into the experience we gained from writing and recording Unless."