I was a little late getting this review ready, so apologies to the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, The Nighthawks, and EllerSoul Records. The album Full Circle was recorded live here in Richmond in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Wirtz is at his best when he’s performing live. A studio just can’t contain him – it hampers his spontaneity and to me he just doesn’t seem as funny when he’s not feeding off an audience.
Fortunately, he is in top form here and backed by one of my favorite groups, The Nighthawks, who can handle blues and rocks with any band in the known universe. They form a pretty damn fine team.
The Nighthawks consist of Mark Wenner on harp; Mark Stutso on drums; Johnny Castle on bass; and Paul Bell on guitar. All four provide backing vocals. Also joining Wirtz are Bob Driver on guitar and vocals; Steve Riggs on bass and backing vocals; and Li’l Ronnie Owens on harp and backing vocals.
Got to love that rocking sound that starts off the album, Too Old. I’ve been hearing that we’re too old to rock and roll, but just right to sing the blues… Maybe we’ve been around for a while, but we’ve still got that mojo and the Reverend is here to preach it to us!
A fun little instrumental, Smokie Part 2, is next. Good piano work by Wirtz that plays well with Wenner’s harp. It’s got a great groove.
Demonstrating his propensity for clever lyrics, Wirtz launches into One Point Five, a fast number about being the “second happiest man” in the world. I love the song, and the Nighthawks are in good form and obviously having fun on the record.
Not really blues, but one of Wirtz’ most requested songs, Mama Was A Deadhead is finally put on a record. It’s just Wirtz and his piano telling the story of a youngster growing up in a family that followed a certain band around the country. The lyrics are hysterical…
He band is in full swing on Rockin’ Up To Gloryland. Wirtz’ lyrics once again are great and the music is solid rocking blues. This is his take on “Rock And Roll Heaven” and for my money it’s closer to the true nature of rock and roll.
Wirtz slows things down on Your Last Goodbye, with kind of a Santo & Johnny feel. The musicianship is beautiful and this Floyd Cramer style piano is gorgeous. It’s only appropriate since Cramer wrote the song – and if you don’t remember that name, look up some of his music on-line and discover one of the all time greats.
To start off Daddy Passed Away, Wirtz tells a story of how he approaches writing some of his songs. Inspiration is all around us, it’s up to us to pick up on them. This song was still a work in progress but it’s got a cool beat and once the audience got a little raucous it became a lot of fun.
He keeps the old school rock and roll going with Breakup, a rockabilly number that’s a real crowd pleaser. Gotta love the sound on this one.
Next up is Who Dat? (The Rev’s Theme), the song that introduces him to a new audience. Fun lyrics and a cool piano riff.
Ah, growing older is a bitch, and leave it to the Reverend to write the ode that deals with the problem. I’m A Senior is a funny look at the phenomenon. How often does “Matlock” and “Steppenwolf” get mentioned in the same song?
Remember the so-called men’s movement? Back when Phil Donahue ruled the earth? Daddy Was A Sensitive Man recalls those heady times. It’s one of the most recorded songs from Wirtz’ catalog, and it’s no wonder why, it’s a funny song. Hell, I want to record it…
Of the great blues party numbers, Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee gets the Wirtz treatment. Great homage to the Jerry Lee Lewis style of piano playing. The band is in top form on this song. We’ve played it on Time For The Blues and will bring it back again… Our friend Li’l Ronnie steps in on the harp and some background vocals.
Definitely not blues, but the winner of the strangest title contest, Mennonite Surf Party is next. This is a hard-rocking number and the audience has a field day with it. So does Mark Wenner who turns in a great harp run. Okay, you gotta love it.
A little old school religion pops up on The Hand Of The Almighty, until the lyrics kick in. This won’t make it into the Sunday school hymnal, but it’s a great party song. Li’l Ronnie is back on the harp and the congregation joins in for the testimony. You might not want to play this one when the kids are in the car…
Wirtz takes us out with a short song, Reprise (Smokie Part 2.5), a nice little piano run that despite its miniscule length makes a nice bookend to the album.
I wanted to make sure I got this review up in time for The Reverend’s next trip to Richmond, and almost missed his appearance at The Tin Pan on January 14. And to sweeten the deal, he’s going to be appearing with The Nighthawks, and I am sure one or two of his friends will be there as well. I’m still kicking myself for missing this appearance, so you better believe I’m going to be in the Amen Corner this time!
In the meantime, check out Wirtz’ other work and tour dates on his website http://revbillycwirtz.com/. And you can get those tickets now for this and other fine blues shows coming to The Tin Pan at http://www.tinpanrva.com/. Be sure to mention my name…