The Nighthawks

The Nighthawks
Damn Good Time

Severn Records

By Tony Del Rey
July 2012

Don’t look now, but those old barflies The Nighthawks are back with a disc full of heavy-on-the-harmony blues anthems they proclaim to be one Damn Good Time. And seeing as how the Hawks have scuffled around in bars and clubs long enough to know a good time when they see one (since ‘72, according to founding member Mark Wenner), I was of a mind to praise the record to the skies.

Boiled down to basic elements, the Nighthawks are a rhythm section that displays at least a small talent for singing. While it’s difficult to discern exactly who sings what, the fact that nearly every track contains some form of close backing harmony gives you an indication of the group’s confidence in its vocal abilities - unprofessionally trained as they are.

At first glance, the chorus of back-up harmonies - prominent on cuts like bassist Johnny Castle’s country rocker, “Bring Your Sister” and the slow-grinding title track, “Damn Good Time” - appear to add a fine coat of polish to the material. Upon repeated listening however, it becomes apparent that the basic “verse-and-a-lick” song structures holding these tunes together don’t quite support all the schmaltzy vocalizing the Hawks lay on top. Fleetwood Mac they’re not!

The deluge of voices get put to better use on the old Canned Heat classic, “Let’s Work Together.” Written by R&B notable Wilbert Harrison as “Let’s Stick Together,” this steady-rolling boogie has all the musical esprit a band could ever hope to convey built into its exquisite framework. The tune’s easy, chugging rhythm provides a solid foundation for the Hawks to break out in paroxysms of vocal rejoicing and still leave room for guitarist Paul Bell’s stinging slide to do its thing.

Whatever their inefficacies, The Hawks deserve a measure of credit for not taking themselves too seriously. Despite spending the better part of four decades playing for folding money, much of the material on Damn Good Time is sung with humor and self-effacement, the album’s musical high spirits its most resonant feature. And not even Fleetwood Mac can say that.

<- back to Features