Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Nighthawks Provide Another Damn Good Time!

The new album by The Nighthawks, Damn Good Time! is the first release by the venerable blues and roots band for the Severn label. It is also the first album since Mark Stutso replaced original Nighthawk Pete Ragusa on drums and vocals. Still with the Nighthawks is original member Mark Wenner on vocals and harmonica; Paul Bell on guitar and Johnny Castle on bass and vocals. As Mark Wenner observes, Stutso has now been with the band for years and 500 shows so the rhythm duo of Castle and Stutso provide a strong foundation as well as provide distinctive singing voices.

The feel of the playing here is a bit more of a country-tinge to these ears which shouldn’t be surprising given that Castle and Stutso have a bit of garage rock, rockabilly and country in the background. The country flavor is perhaps displayed most on Bring Your Sister, a pop-ish number that Castle handles the vocal on. An old Elvis recording, Too Much, is transformed with a lazy blues shuffle groove with Wenner taking the lead vocal and adding some nice harmonica. The title track originally a country number that is given a bluesy transformation which suggests Taj Mahal’s She Caught the Katy, with a strong lead vocal from Stutso and Wenner’s harmonica embellishments and solo is right on the money.

Other material includes Wenner’s interpretation of Nat King Cole’s stab at rock’n’roll, the bluesy ballad, Send For Me, while Castle energetically sings the lively revival of Jimmy McCracklin’s Georgia Slop, with Wenner’s harmonica coming off as a one-man horn section. Nightwork is a nice shuffle that the Nighthawks picked up from Billy Price and features Wenner on vocal and nice guitar from Paul Bell. Wilbert Harrison did the original Let’s Work Together as a one-man band. The able rendition here, with Stutso taking the lead, owes a bit to Canned Heat‘s cover version. Wenner handles the vocal on the jump-blues Smack Dab in the Middle, while Down to My Last Million Tears, is a swamp pop styled song with a bluesy edge and a fervent Stutso vocal.

Damn Good Time! is another fine effort in The Nighthawks extensive body of recordings that certainly will appeal to the many who flock to their shows every year. It exhibits that soulful singing and strong, rocking ensemble playing that they continue to lay down decades after they first started down the blues highway.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here are The Nighthawks in performance.

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