Last Train To Bluesville
Rip Bang Records
Last Train To
Bluesville is unlike most of the other dozens of
albums recorded by The Nighthawks over their
nearly 30 year history. D.C.'s legendary blues
quartet strolled into the XM/Sirius satellite radio
studios on the invitation of DJ Bill Wax, and
proceeded to cut 10 incredible acoustic blues cuts.
The Nighthawks have always been better
known for their rockin' blues style, so this session presents them in a
very different format from the usual 'hawks sound.
I've been following The Nighthawks
since shortly after their inception, attending many shows in D.C. clubs
like the Psyche Delly and the Bayou. To put it simply --- I'm a big, big
I now have a new favorite Nighthawks
album. Last Train To Bluesville is a serendipitous treat from
start to finish and is my early favorite for top blues disc of the year.
Longtime bandleaders Mark Wenner
(harmonica) and Pete Ragusa (drums) are joined here by more recent
regular members Paul Bell (guitar) and Johnny Castle (bass). All four
members get their chance in the spotlight on the album, but for my money
it's really Wenner's show; he consistently shows why he's regularly
regarded as one of the best harmonica players in the business.
Big Joe Turner's classic "The Chicken
and the Hawk" kicks off the album, with Wenner handling the vocals and
blowing the heck out of his harp; Bell also kicks in some tasteful
guitar licks here. In all, Wenner handles the vocals on
seven of the ten cuts, doing the bluesier stuff like Muddy Waters'
"Nineteen Years Old," "Can't Be Satisfied" and "Rollin' and Tumblin',"
as well as a knockout version of Slim Harpo's "Rainin' In My Heart."
One of the many highlights of the disc is Ragusa's
vocals on James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy," which the 'hawks recorded
previously and have had as a staple in their live act for many years. If
you're wondering how well it works to do an uptempo James Brown song as
an acoustic number, trust me --- it works, and works quite well.
Castle steps up to the mic on the
album's rockin'-est tunes, Bo Diddley's "You Don't Love Me" and Chuck
Berry's "Thirty Days." Both cuts capture the energy of the
original versions without sounding at all derivative.
Sonny Boy Williamson's slow blues,
"Mighty Long Time," is turned into a late night, jazzy sound with Bell's
guitar work nicely complimenting Wenner's spirited harmonica playing.
The band then takes Little Walter's
"High Temperature" and gives it a bit of a doo wop sound with street
corner-style backing vocals. Nice interpretation.
The closing cut, Muddy's "Rollin' and
Tumblin'," has the original's driving intensity, but with an interesting
twist as Ragusa uses something called "tambourine sticks" while pounding
out the rhythm on his snare drum.
Last Train To Bluesville shows
that The Nighthawks still have it. Unhesitatingly recommended!
--- Bill Mitchell