EllerSoul Records – 2017
12 tracks; 43 minutes
Over recent years The Nighthawks have produced a regular series of albums, all of which include a blend of straight up Chicago blues, rock and roll, country and garage rock. Jimmy Thackery was a Nighthawk in the early days and their discography goes back to 1974. The band still comes from DC and is a very stable unit of original harpist Mark Wenner, Paul Bell on guitar, Johnny Castle on bass and Mark Stutso on drums; as the CD cover states, “everyone sings”, all bar Paul taking turns to lead. The typically eclectic mix of material includes four originals and a wide range of covers befitting the varied style.
Wenner leads the way with a great take on a Brenda Lee hit “That’s All You Gotta Do” before Stutso sings the moving “When I Go Away”, written by Larry Campbell for the late Levon Helm, a song sure to bring a tear to the eye. The Nighthawks always include some Muddy Waters and “Baby, I Want To Be Loved” is a classic Willie Dixon song played here at a slower speed with great harp work. Paul’s torrid slide is a feature of Randy Newman’s atmospheric “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield”, a song the band learned for a tribute to Randy held in DC and which then stayed in the set.
Johnny Castle’s rocking “Another Day” points an accusing finger at some of the government’s actions and Stutso’s “Voodoo Doll” finds the singing drummer in trouble: “my feet swell up, my elbow hurts, I done bumped into the wall, somebody’s sticking pins in my voodoo doll”! Another blues classic, Sonny Boy II’s “Ninety Nine” gives Wenner the chance to play some very low register harp. A co-write with Norman Nardini, “Three Times Your Fool” is reprised from Stutso’s solo album and is a soulful ballad with expressive vocals, Wenner managing to sound like a horn section at times. It is perhaps worth mentioning that there are no additional musicians on this album, everything you hear is from the four band members only.
Wenner sings Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So”, a song he learned at a jam which adds a hint of country, especially in the echoey guitar. RL Burnside’s Hill Country style seems an unlikely pairing with The Nighthawks but their slide-driven, mainly instrumental take on “Snake Drive” works well before a completely instrumental take on “Frère Jacques” that Wenner calls “Blues For Brother John”, created for use in harmonica teaching and providing an almost jazzy platform to which Paul responds on guitar. The album closes with Johnny singing Ed Cobb’s 1966 song “Dirty Water”, a tale of life on the rough side of Washington, DC. and Paul pulling out a solo that includes a Beatles tease.
As always, The Nighthawks provide an entertaining range of material on another album that their many fans will enjoy.