Lake Forester/Sun Times

Lake Bluff singer adds a touch of country

What would you do if Death rang your doorbell?

Lake Bluff folk singer-songwriter David Hawkins, it seems, would write a song.

“I love this one Gahan Wilson cartoon in which a man has just answered the front door to see the Grim Reaper standing there,” said Hawkins. “The man is calling over to his wife on the couch, ‘Honey, you’ll never guess who’s here!’”

He mixed in a touch of influence from a favorite e.e.cummings poem, “portrait,” and wrote, “Hello Mr. Death (A Love Song), that’s become the title track for his new album, which he’ll release at a concert Friday, May 18, at the Two Way Street Coffee House in Downers Grove. The independent album was recorded, mixed, and produced by Derrick “Suede” Stout, and mastered by Blaise Barton at JoyRide Studio in Chicago.

That title track, despite its reference to a rather somber figure, is a melodic and delightfully witty romp.

“I tend not to write throwaway songs,” said Hawkins. “Even when they seem light in tone or mood, they are about serious matters. Some serious matters require a good laugh sometimes. I don’t take the topic of death lightly, and I certainly mean no disrespect to anyone’s personal loss, including my own. In ‘Hello Mr. Death (A Love Song),’ I wanted to consider another way to look at the inevitable.”

When Hawkins released his debut CD in 2007, “Driven to the Strings” (Darwin Records), it was the culmination of a life-long love of playing guitar and singing his own songs. But he made the recording mainly at the urging of family and friends, who knew how talented he was and who felt others should hear him, too.

Soon thereafter, Hawkins received airplay and a live studio spot on the “Folk Festival” show on WDCB Public Radio, as well as airplay on WXRT. He started to realize that his music was being very well-received, which moved him to further develop his talents as both a songwriter and as a performer.

So since 2007, Hawkins has immersed himself in songwriting groups, open mics and shows. He’s had bookings at Chicagoland folk venues and music events, and was selected for performance at the Midwest Folk Radio Showcase at the Folk Alliance Region Midwest conference (Bolingbrook) in 2011.

Hawkins’ support from and acceptance into the folk community seems to have influenced the musical direction of the new CD, with acoustic guitar on every track (Hawkins), some with mandolin (Don Stiernberg) and banjo (Mark Dvorak), one with cello (Teddy Rankin-Parker), and mostly upright bass (Clark Sommers).

The CD is also very different from the first in its musical style, evoking more folk and country influences. The songwriting is well-crafted, with lyrics that often operate on several levels, offering a degree of complexity to songs that already shine with outstanding musicianship and excellent production.

One of the stand-outs is “My Girl Whiskey”, a song that can be described as “clever country,” and which involves noted Nashville guitarist, David Wallace.

Explaining his turn toward the country genre with this album, Hawkins said, “I think I just like it, and instead of trying to make it anything other than what I enjoy doing, went in that direction. When I listened to a CD by The Gordons, ‘Our Time,’ I fell in love with it. It’s a flavor that I just can’t get enough of, and it helps me access different registers in my voice, so was a natural attraction.”

Hawkins, an English teacher at Lake Forest High School credits his wife, Cheryl, as a co-writer on one of the new songs, “Trouble On My Mind.”

The works he teaches touch him too.

“I teach literature, and hear language that certainly influences how I craft a song,” said Hawkins. “It’s hard to settle for something when my standard is the greatest literature there is, and everything else falls short. So it’s hard to feel finished with a song.”

But his music does add a special dimension to his classroom work, he added. “Students frequently ask me to bring my guitar to class, and occasionally I do,” he said. “I know that sharing what I have written adds some credibility to my teaching of writing, and it humanizes me a bit in students’ eyes.”

Writer Lilli Kuzma is host of the “Folk Festival” show on 90.9fm WDCB.