Damn Good Time!
BluesWax Rating: 8 out of 10
Timeless Roots Rock
Throughout their history, The Nighthawks have had a rotating lineup, to say the least. The current cast, anchored by founding member Mark Wenner on vocals and harmonica, stands up against the best of iterations of the band. The band’s sound has always been a blend of styles coming together, and Damn Good Time! is no exception, swirling together deep soul, blues, rockabilly, and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll. The present lineup is Paul Bell on guitar, Johnny Castle on bass, and Mark Stutso on drums. Like the D.C. area the band hails from, the disc is an amalgam of Northern and Southern traditions, kicking things off with an Elvis tune and finishing with an urban-rock-meets-Memphis-soul number. Start to finish, the disc keeps things moving.
Wenner says that the opener, Elvis’ “Too Much,” is “channeled through the ghost of Jimmy Reed,” although the ‘Hawks give the number far more energy than Elvis or Jimmy Reed ever could. Led by Wenner’s harmonica, the tune veers away from rockabilly into a clean, urban groove. On the other hand, “Let’s Work Together” stays truer to tradition, delivered as a classic. That’s not to say it’s not done right, just that it’s not done much differently than other versions you’ve heard.
About half to the tracks are originals, with Mark Stutso pairing up with Pittsburgh stalwart Norm Nardini on three of them. While Pittsburgh isn’t a bastion of the blues, there is a definite voice that comes from that town (consider the influence of Pittsburgh’s favorite son, Andy Warhol). Damn Good Time! draws on that art-rock ethos and mixes it with Wenner’s blues-rock pedigree.
The best tunes for my money are the quieter numbers. Wenner puts a bluesy twist on the Nat King Cole tune “Send For Me,” with rough edges where Cole was smooth. The title track is a sweet, danceable cut that not only shows off the vocal abilities of the unit, but has a catchy lyric. The finished version of the song drew on Warren King’s efforts (more Pittsburgh influence), with Stutso and Castle finishing it in Nighthawks style.
The Nardini/Stutso-penned closer collects all of this into a four-minute romp, and you’d be hard pressed to peg what decade “Heartbreak Shake” comes from. It’s that brand of timeless roots rock that has kept the Nighthawks alive and kicking for so many years.
Eric Wrisley is a contributing editor at BluesWax and a contributing writer at Blues Revue.
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