EllerSoul Records 2015
12 tracks; 45 minutes
After two electric albums The Nighthawks return to the acoustic formula that was so successful with their Last Train To Bluesville release which won a BMA for Best Acoustic album a few years back. This one was taped before a live audience at Montrose Studios in Richmond, VA. The Nighthawks remain unchanged with Mark Wenner on harp, Paul Bell on guitar, Johnny Castle on bass and Mark Stutso on drums. The band has two great plusses over many ensembles in that all members sing well, harmonize excellently and all contribute to the writing here, the two Marks offering a song each and Johnny two, one track being credited to the whole band and there are covers from a range of blues and roots sources.
Muddy Waters is clearly a touchpoint for the band and this set opens with a splendid version of Jimmy Rogers’ “Rock This House” done in a laid-back, fun version with strong harmonies from the band. Relaxed takes on “Walking After Midnight” (Alan Block/Don Hecht) and “Down In The Hole” follow, the latter featuring some fine harp from Mark Wenner. Ike Turner’s “Matchbox” romps along with some nice picking from Paul and a firm vocal from Mark Stutso whose drums set the pace all the way through before “Tiger In Your Tank” (Willie Dixon) follows suit (though in a less frantic version than on Joe Bonamassa’s recent “Red Rocks” version); Muddy’s spirit is certainly invoked here though as the vocals (unsure who is singing this one) sound sufficiently seductive and there is some fine acoustic slide work from Paul. Johnny’s short rockabilly tune “Jana Lea” is a good interlude before another Muddy song “Rollin’ Stone” follows in a suitably menacing version with plenty of tough harp.
Mark Wenner’s writing contribution is a bouncy piece of country-inflected blues in which Mark confesses that he learned plenty of defensive strategies in life but never learned to “Guard My Heart” and Mark Stutso seems similarly upset by love in the confessional blues “Down To My Last Million Tears” (written with his regular co-writer Norm Nardini).
There is no doubt that this fine live album will appeal to long-term Nighthawks fans and lovers of well-played acoustic blues and roots.