The Nighthawks

The Nighthawks
Last Train to Bluesville

Rip Bang Records (RB003)

By David Wilson
September 2011

Curiosities abound these days. One such is why this CD is the first one Georgetown Fats gave me to review. It is, after all, over a year since its release and it has received modest acclaim and nominations for some awards. That is one reason that, lacking any sense of urgency, I have procrastinated in gathering my impressions and setting them down for you.

Editorial note - the BBS believes in the timeliness of blues recordings. That being said, we do have more disks to review than reviewers. Help Wanted!!

The wide range of music that is dubbed blues these days exceeds credible breadth in my opinion. The Nighthawks do on the whole and more particularly in the instance of this recording, fall between borders I am willing to accept.

The band itself has been around since the early '70s, long enough to become an institution of sorts, and they have evolved and devolved several times in the course of their existence. While formed as a back-to-the-roots rock band, their acknowledgement and inclusion of blues influences resulted in their often being called a blues band by some with a limited musical vocabulary, a label the band itself was reluctant to claim. However, and not unexpectedly, audience expectations predisposed the band to more and more blues overtones.

Mark Wenner, lead vocalist and harmonica player, is the only member remaining from the '70s, with Paul Bell, lead guitarist, Johnny Castle, bass guitar, and Mark Stutso, drums and the most recent addition, all joining since the millennium.

The most interesting aspect of this CD is that it is acoustic, studio recorded and boasts a first rate selection of songs. When you draw from the likes of Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters, James Brown, Slim Harpo, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, no one can fault you for your choice of material.

Drawn from the rather extensive repertoire of the group, performed hundreds if not thousands of times and solidly established in their arrangements, the band reels through these numbers with assurance and precision. For me, that leads to a sterile quality that leaves me wanting.

While a number of other reviewers report they find these performances cutting edge, I never feel surprised or startled by any of the musical choices made and with repeated listening I have not found much in the way of nuance or complexity.

There is no question that the band is competent, technically proficient and disciplined. What enjoyment my listening provides is tempered by the performances of lead vocalist and veteran, Mark Wenner. I just do not find his voice very distinctive or interesting. His sense of pitch is very good, but his phrasing seems obvious and I do not experience any sense of real connection to the lyrics.

I feel more excitement and interest in the contributions of lead guitarist Paul Bell. His accompaniment often introduces and underlines the emotional constituent that I am always seeking to experience in a blues performance.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that this recording is competent, workmanlike, but not very inspiring. It would not be a bad introduction to the blues for a neophyte. I doubt many long time aficionados will find it of more than passing interest.

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