Monday, February 15, 2010

Nighthawks Spin Blues Unplugged But True.

It has been a long ride for drummer Pete Ragusa with the Nighthawks. “Live at Bluesville” (Rip Bang Records) recorded for Bill Wax’s XM-Sirius program, is Ragusa’s swan song for the Hawks as Ragusa ends a 35 year stint as drummer for this deservedly popular blues and roots band. He will be replaced by Mark Stutso, leaving harmonica player and singer Mark Wenner the sole remaining member of the band from its early days. Bassist Johnny Castle and guitarist Paul Bell are now well established in the band.

On this visit to Bill Wax at XM’s Washington DC studios, they Nighthawks unplugged which provided a more intimate, but no less fervent, context for a number of songs that are well established in the band’s repertoire. Opening tunes with Wenner handling the vocals include a swinging rendition of “The Chicken & the Hawk,” followed by Muddy Waters’s “Nineteen Years Old,” with some very solid slide from Bell. Ragusa sings the James Brown raver “I’ll Go Crazy,” with Wenner wailing on harmonica. Johnny Castle takes the gravelly vocal on Bo Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me,” with Wenner taking the lead on Slim Harpo’s “Rainin’ in My Heart,” (I know Peppermint Harris wrote it), a performance in which the unplugged format really enhances the performance. It is followed by a lovely rendition of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t be Satisfied,” with more nice slide from Bell who with Wenner takes the harmony vocal behind Castle on Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days.” The vocal mike returns to Wenner for solid renditions of Rice Miller’s “Mighty Long Time,” with some very evocative harp; Little Walter’s Temperature,” retitled here “High Temperature”; and “Rollin’ & Tumblin’ modeled after the Baby Leroy Foster Trio recording with Muddy and Little Walter, although not nearly as raucous as Foster’s original two-sided 78.

This is a fun disc with a change of pace as the band handles songs that will be very familiar to the Nighthawk’s many fans world-wide. Ragusa has always been an exceptional drummer of considerable range and taste, and on this recording plays a snare drum, ably propelling these very ingratiating performances on a delightful album. He will be fortunately engaging in a variety of projects in the Washington DC area, so those fortunate enough to live around will still have opportunities to enjoy his playing.

For purposes of FTC regulations, my review CD was provided by a publicity firm promoting this release.

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