Album Reviews

Music You Don't Know You Like Yet

THE NIGHTHAWKS

AMERICAN LANDSCAPE

2009-03-06

The Nighthawks have been turbo-charging band stands around the world for over 36 years. Based in Maryland/Northern Virginia, this four piece outfit has always kept one foot in the blues but has never shied away from roots rock, country, R & B and soul, both on stage and on record. Johnny Cash, Elvis, Patsy Cline, James Brown, Leiber & Stoller and Frank Zappa are as likely to find their way into a Hawks set as Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James or Otis Rush. Featuring original members Mark Wenner on Harmonica and vocals and Pete Ragusa on drums vocals and percussion as well as new members Paul Bell on guitar and vocals and Johnny Castle on bass, vocal and percussion this disc skips covers of the first generation blues legends and focuses more on the rock and roll era. As always, the Nighthawks cast a wide net for their material. Things start out blue with a Jimmy Reed style shuffle on "Big Boy" which features Wenner’s wracked out vocals and fine harmonica work along with plenty of Bell’s tasty guitar work. The blues also get a spin on Ike Turner’s "Matchbox" where Ragusa’s elastic vocals convey the tough minded defiance of being down but not out over some of the best harmonica work found on the disc. Steve Cropper’s "Don’t Turn Your Heater Down", featuring soulful vocals by Ragusa and the instant classic cheatin’ song, "Where Do You Go", which was penned by bassist Johnny Castle and features the great line “where do you go when you go where you go without me?” both dip into the Soul/R& B well. Keeping the stylistic juke box spinning, Castle’s "Jana Lea" takes the band into rockabilly territory and they even take a turn into the Tom Waits songbook with an atmospheric run through "Down in the Hole". But they don’t stop there: As befitting the inclusive title of the disc, cuts by Dan Penn, "Standing in the Way", Berry Gordy, "Try it Baby", and even the Mayberry RFD theme, "Fishin’ Hole Theme", are included along with rocking takes on Bob Dylan’s "She Belongs to Me" and "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine" both of which benefit from getting roughed up from their folk roots. As always, the Hawks play all these cuts on that thin edge between just right tight and overly polished to great effect. If you’re not hip to the Nighthawks this isn’t a bad place to start. If you like what you hear, and you will, check out the one of the many live releases by this crew. Your only regret will be that you let so many years go by without the adding the Nighthawks to your musical diet. Smitty

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Compiled by the WYCE Journalism Club

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