Catching up with the guys at a recent show (we had never met before, but I’ve been following them for years) I got a chance to add some more of their albums to my collection, including a recent release that I somehow missed. BACK PORCH PARTY, available on EllerSoul Records captures them raw and acoustic.
No matter how you experience The Nighthawks, it’s going to be over-the-top and raucous. They have a lot of fun on stage and it translates into an audience that is more often than not whipped into the proverbial frenzy.
Over the years, there have been a number of members of The Nighthawks (for their history, be sure to get your hands on their new DVD), and the current quartet is comprised of Mark Wenner on harmonica and vocals; Paul Bell on guitars and vocals; Johnny Castle on bass and vocals; and Mark Stutso on drum and vocals.
BACK PORCH PARTY was recorded live in Richmond in front of an enthusiastic audience and it captures the essence of one of their live shows – high energy, some surprises, and one hell of a performance.
The album starts out on a high note with Rock This House and almost immediately you are drawn in to the acoustic sound. It’s not as overpowering as an electric set, but no less energetic. The song is more of a promise than a warning, after all, anyone coming to hear The Nighthawks should know what to expect.
The Patsy Cline classic Walkin’ After Midnight gets the full treatment from The Nighthawks. Cline blurred the lines between country and pop, and here the song comes out sounding very bluesy. It’s a tribute to the song itself and to the band being able to translate it so completely.
Things start out slow and low on Down In The Hole, but thinks kick up on this gospel flavored blues. Wenner’s harmonica takes a blistering soulful lead and then the band switches into more of a jazz mode. It’s a very cool take on the song.
Ike Turner’s Matchbox gets a swinging interpretation. I’m not sure who took the vocals on this one, but there’s some nice shouting going on. Wenner once again shows why he’s one of the best harp players around as he really rocks it. Bell shows he’s no slouch on the guitar and makes those six strings sing.
Next up is a very cool rendition of Willie Dixon’s Tiger In Your Tank. The band has kicked it up a notch and they are definitely firing on all cylinders on this classic. Makes you wonder why more bands don’t cover the song.
Jana Lea is a Nighthawks original by Johnny Castle. The song has a real Sun Studios Rockabilly sound and you can tell the band is having a lot of fun playing the song.
Muddy Waters is well represented by his song, Rollin’ Stone. Waters was a mentor to Wenner and he and the band capture that feeling. It’s a strong cover and very powerful. And yes, for those of young to remember the story, this is the song that Mick, Keith, and the rest of that famous band got their name.
Another Nighthawks original, Guard My Heart, by Mark Wenner is next and the band is in swing mode again. His vocals are good and the harp punctuates the song. It’s a solid jazzy number and a definite crown pleaser.
That’s one thing about The Nighthawks, they know how to blend songs near perfectly. There is just the right mix of originals and covers on this live album to keep the crowd rocking. They are terrific songwriters and can easily fill up a CD with great original music, but they know that their audience also loves to hear the way they approach the well know songs.
On this next original credited to Norm Nardini and drummer Mark Stutso, Down To My Last Million Tears, is good old fashioned shouter that gives Stutso a chance to unleash his vocals and let the rest of the band add harmony. This is one of my favorite songs on the album.
Johnny Castle contributes the next original on the album, Hey Miss Hey. This is a good old fashioned rocker that I could easily have heard Little Richard sing in his heyday. It’s fun and fast paced and pretty much guaranteed to get an audience moving and shaking on the dance floor.
Another fun old school style song, Rooster Blues rocks the audience one more time. This has that late night bandstand feel as the band was winding down but the crowd wants just a little more. Love this song.
The album ends up with a Nighthawks collaboration, Back To The City. It is credited to the entire band and it’s easy to see why. It’s got that “last call” feel but it definitely leaves the audience wanting to see more. Just like at every Nighthawks show.
Very few bands survive the years the way the Nighthawks have. They have evolved, changed personnel, but somehow managed to keep that spirit alive. I’ve been a fan for years – long before I ever met the guys, but now that I’ve met them and had a chance to see more of their shows, I’m an even bigger fan.
Give this album a listen and you’ll see why.
In the meantime, if you want to catch them live or pick up some of their amazing CDs, be sure to visit their website at http://www.thenighthawks.com/.