The Nighthawks – Tryin’ to Get to You | Album Review

The Nighthawks – Tryin’ to Get to You

EllerSoul Records

CD: 13 Songs, 45 Minutes

Styles: Soul-Influenced Blues, Blues Covers

Legendary. Not so long ago, this word was reserved for people and things that truly were legends: Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, the music of Mozart and Eric Clapton. Nowadays everything is: photos, memes, ice cream flavors, even an unusually-witty retort to a commenter on YouTube. Where have all the real legends gone? In the blues world, sticking this term in front of one’s name could be a good marketing strategy, though not always accurate. Consider the case of The Nighthawks, a veteran ensemble founded in 1972. They’ve opened countless doors and forged many a touring route for more well-known contemporaries, including the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, and played with as many blues and rockabilly legends as they could. They opened show after show for Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Carl Perkins, also backing and recorded with John Hammond and Pinetop Perkins. Without the Nighthawks, would the household names we know have become such? One can only imagine.

To date, they’ve released thirty-one albums. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Tryin’ to Get to You is their laid-back latest, featuring four original songs and nine covers. Of the latter, notable ones include T-Bone Walker’s “I Know Your Wig is Gone,” James Brown’s “Tell Me What I Did Wrong,” the title track, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland’s “Chairman of the Board,” and Greg Gallaman’s “Luscious.” If you’ve never heard of some of these, that’s okay, because the ‘Hawks put their own unique spin on each. As for their original material, strong instrumentation helps their cause tremendously.

“Baby It’s Time,” a plea for a certain lady to leave her lover, has a thrumming bassline and beat reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s “Downbound Train.” If those aren’t ominous enough, the song starts, “Baby, it’s time to put your old man down – down on the ground. Honey, put your old man down.” Are these two plotting a simple breakup or a murder? This is the kind of unexpectedly-eerie song that proves the Nighthawks still have a talon’s edge.

The current lineup features Mark Wenner on harmonicas and vocals; Dan Hovey on guitars and vocals; Mark Stutso on drums and vocals, and Paul Pisciotta on basses and vocals.

The Nighthawks was an idea in Mark Wenner’s brain long before he was able to implement it. The musical product of pre-1958 radio in Washington, D.C., he didn’t know there were rules against mixing blues, R&B, honky-tonk country, doo-wop, gospel and rockabilly into one delicious stew. So many iconic artists have had a taste. As for the ‘Hawks? They fly on.

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