So long as The Nighthawks shake, rattle and roll onstage and on the record, the blues and every spicy configuration of rock ‘n’ roll will remain alive and very well. Mark Wenner formed The Nighthawks 48 years ago in Washington, D.C.,with just that in mind. Blend the blues into a variety of cocktails, serve ‘em up with absolute pleasure, and make the buzz last.
Musicians learned from The ‘Hawks. Serious players like Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes performed with them during down times, and while woodshedding. Now 31 albums down the line, the latest lineup — Wenner on harmonica, drummer Mark Stutso, guitarist Dan Hovey, and bassist Paul Pisciotta — play the whole wide range of “Tryin’ To Get To You” with fire in their bellies and elation in their hearts.
All four sing up a ruckus. Out-rocking Los Lobos is basically impossible, and they wisely don’t try. What The Nighthawks do is get inside of Lobos’ “Don’t Worry Baby” and have their own natural blue ball with it. Wenner stokes the song’s inherent hot engine with his lowdown roar on harp, an element not present on the original, and one that works instinctively. Otherwise, the performance simply cooks.
The Nighthawks’ albums always contain exciting takes like that, several surprising obscurities, and a few by the band. Here, they nod to their hometown with a soulful ride through “Tryin’ To Get To You,” a 1954 B-side by D.C.’s local R&B stars, The Eagles. (Not the country rockers from Los Angeles) Differing dramatically from the way Elvis Presley belted the song out just months later, their groove more resembles The Fabulous Thunderbirds of the 1970s. Wenner makes that harp as Lazy Lester-fine as the Thunderbird’s Kim Wilson did.
The blue nocturne jazz in Hovey’s “Baby it’s Time,” and the hard again Muddy Waters stomp in “Chairman of the Board,” also make a particular impression. Hovey’s “The Cheap Stuff,” in acoustic country mode, spotlights his excellent guitar work and certifies that The Nighthawks still make nothing but top-shelf stuff. So basic, but impossible not to relish over and over again.
–– Tom Clarke
- The Nighthawks
- ‘Tryin’ To Get To You’
- Label: EllerSoul Records
- Release: April 17, 2020