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American Landscape

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Album Review

The Nighthawks probably find their music classed in the blues section of the record store most of the time, which makes a certain kind of sense — if your lead singer plays harmonica and your lead guitarist plays a lot of slide, you have to expect that. But in fact, things aren't as simple as that; what this band shows is an admirable breadth of tonal and stylistic range within the broad constraints of the blues-rock idiom. American Landscape presents a nice mixture of covers and originals, and in this case the originals are sometimes better — bassist Johnny Castle's rollicking "Jana Lea" is easily one of the high points on this disc. But their jazzy take on the Tom Waits composition "Down in the Hole" (from the Franks Wild Years stage show) is brilliant, as is their nicely chugging arrangement of Ike Turner's "Matchbox." The Nighthawks can rock out like nobody's business, as they demonstrate on barnburners like "Big Boy" (listen to Mark Wenner singing through his overdriven harp mike) and the classic meat-and-potatoes R&B of Dan Penn's "Standing in the Way," but they also demonstrate their range and subtlety on the funky swagger of "Where Do You Go" and a startlingly gentle but insistent rendition of "Try It Baby." The closest thing to a misstep on this album is a puzzling one — a loving but ultimately rather wooden version of Steve Cropper's funky "Don't Turn Your Heater Down," a song that seems like it would be a can't-miss proposition for a band with this particular set of skills.


Formed: 1972 in Washington, D.C.

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A hard-driving D.C.-based bar band with strong Chicago blues roots. Formed in 1972 by harpist and vocalist Mark Wenner and guitarist Jimmy Thackery, the band earned a reputation as a solid outfit through more than a decade of touring and recording projects with John Hammond and former members of Muddy Waters' band. Thackery left in 1986, but Wenner regrouped around longtime members Jan Zukowski on bass and Pete Ragusa on drums. Trouble, their 1991 release on Powerhouse, is a blend of blues, R&B,...
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American Landscape, The Nighthawks
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