Rock 'n' roll has its artists and its craftsmen. Will Johnson has always come across as the latter: For the past 11 years, the Texan songsmith has built a sturdy catalogue using grit, bits of twang, and whatever rusty implements were hanging from his tool belt. Apart from the occasional solo album, Johnson has recorded with the barebones combo Centro-Matic and the loosely orchestral South San Gabriel. Aside from being a hard-working guy, there's no particular reason he hammered together the new full-lengths from the two projects to form the hefty Dual Hawks. There's no overarching concept, no epic narrative—just a double dose of great Will Johnson tunes.
Of course, "great" in Johnson terms means coarse, corroded scorchers like "The Rat Patrol And DJs," the opener of Centro-Matic's side of Dual Hawks. "Remind Us Alive" taps into a Magnolia Electric Co. vibe with its gnarled roots and classic-rock quotation marks, while "I, The Kite" tracks mud all over a hangdog pop hook. Surprisingly—or maybe not, considering his inherent stiffness as a songwriter—Johnson pounds more pathos and dynamism out of his blocky rock band than he does the sprawling palette of musicians in South San Gabriel. His voice as whispery as sandpaper, he cracks sad smiles on "Kept On The Sly" and tangles with cello and viola on "Trust To Lose"—two of the more approachable songs on SSG's dour, drifting side of the equation. The halves of Dual Hawks might not match up exactly, but together, they make for another solid Johnson construction.