The Nighthawks - Still Wild

The Nighthawks
Still Wild

(Ruf Records)

First Appeared at The Music Box, August 1999, Volume 6, #8

Written by John Metzger


For 27 years, The Nighthawks has been touring the country, building a loyal following around its mix of blues, rockabilly, and soul classics. Its fans have affectionately dubbed the ensemble the "worldís greatest bar band," and from the music contained on Still Wild, the groupís nineteenth release, itís easy to see why.

Of the twelve tunes contained on Still Wild, ten are covers that draw from the likes of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Charlie Rich. Herein lies the problem. With so many songs written by the masters, itís difficult not to compare these covers to both the original recordings as well as the many other artists that have performed them over the years. For example, Nobody But You is well-played by The Nighthawks, but the group just doesnít make it swing like the original Little Walter rendition. Likewise Illustrated Man lacks some of the passion that is contained in the version performed by Johnny Winter. Still, you canít blame the Maryland-based group for trying, and if you truly allow yourself to get lost in the music, the outfit does serve up a potent cocktail thatís perfect for the summer barbecue season.

Despite the longevity of its career, The Nighthawks has managed to maintain three-fourths of its original line-up. Fueling the fire are the gruff vocals and sterling, James Cotton-influenced harp work of band-leader Mark Wenner. His energy helps to propel classics like Tiger in Your Tank and Read Way Back. On the beautiful ballad Cry Like a Man, Wenner takes a softer approach, allowing his vocals to soar with an Al Green-like charm.

Since the departure of Jim Thackery in the mid-í80s, The Nighthawks' guitar slot has been somewhat of a revolving door. Its latest recruit is Pete Kanaras, who has been with the band since January 1995. His contributions to Still Wild are somewhat understated, and more often than not he adds texture and rhythm to the songs instead of attacking them with a blistering lead.

Rounding out The Nighthawks is the rhythm section of bassist Jan Zukowski and drummer Pete Ragusa. They perform like a duo who have been together for a long time, as they effortlessly anchor songs ó like the Wenner-penned Guard My Heart ó tightly to their groove.

Still Wild concludes with the sultry instrumental Slow Dance, the only other original composition contained on the endeavor. Itís a little baffling that Wenner and company didnít write a few more selections for the disc, as the two they did record sound fervent and fresh. Whatever the reason, though, one thing is clear ó the band enjoys what it is doing, and after all, isnít that whatís important? starstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Canned Heat - Instrumentals, 1967-1996

Fleetwood Mac - Shrine '69

B.B. King - The Ultimate Collection


Still Wild is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 1999 The Music Box