First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2009, Volume 16, #8
Written by John Metzger
Mon August 3, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
The Nighthawks seemingly has more lives than a cat. Over the past 37 years, the group has charted a rather unusual course for its career, occasionally rising to prominence only to fade right back into obscurity, before reemerging once again. Although many folks would consider it to be a local act — albeit one that has attained an enormous level of popularity along the corridor that connects Baltimore to Washington, D.C. — The Nighthawks also has flirted with fame on both the regional and national stages. It helped considerably that shortly after The Nighthawks solidified its line-up in 1974, the outfit was warmly embraced by veterans of the blues scene, such as Otis Rush and Fenton Robinson. More recently, The Nighthawks’ profile was elevated when television producer David Simon showcased the band’s music on his HBO series The Wire. For whatever reason, though, the collective has never really managed to capitalize on the opportunities that have come its way.
Part of the problem is that The Nighthawks hasn’t been terribly prolific either at writing songs or in crafting albums. In fact, a 10-year span of time separates its latest set American Landscape from its previous studio endeavor Still Wild. Although the outfit dropped a few concert outings into the marketplace during the interim, these efforts, much like Still Wild, made it seem as if The Nighthawks merely was biding its time between gigs. While all of its endeavors have been solid, they also have failed to push the group forward or even capture the full intensity of its live performances. After all, The Nighthawks, first and foremost, is a full-fledged bar band, and like many of its ilk, it gives its audience what it wants to hear and then feeds off the resulting energy. This undeniably is a difficult feat to accomplish within the sterile environment of a recording studio.
One trek through The Nighthawks’ latest set American Landscape, however, is enough to understand the infatuation that many roots-music fans have with the outfit. Two of the album’s tracks — the funky Where Do You Go and the swinging Jana Lea — were penned by Johnny Castle, who had performed with The Nighthawks countless times over the years, but only recently became its full-time bass player. The rest of the set is filled with cover songs that allow The Nighthawks to transform everything from Motown hits (Try It Baby) to Dylan classics (She Belongs to Me and Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine) into roadhouse-ready fare.
If anything, the recent changes that The Nighthawks has made to its line-up seem to have reinvigorated the ensemble. As a result, American Landscape bristles with electricity at each and every turn. When combined with the breadth of material that The Nighthawks tackles on the endeavor, it’s clear that the collection has been designed to illuminate the full range of the group’s potential as well as to put it back onto the national landscape. Not only does it succeed in accomplishing the former feat, but it also ought to achieve the latter one quite easily. After all this time, American Landscape might even make the most fickle of The Nighthawks’ longtime fans forget about the departure of Jimmy Thackery. ˝
Of Further Interest...
American Landscape 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 © 2009 The Music Box