Pete Ragusa is gone. Pete is the drummer and vocalist on this disc, but it’s the last time you’ll have the opportunity to hear him as part of The Nighthawks.
There’s nothing new in this CD, but the selections, all acoustic and recorded live at XM/Sirius studios in downtown Washington, DC, are given first-class treatment and respect. Last Train to Bluesville opens with a shuffle titled “The Chicken and the Hawk,” a classic tale of man and woman reminiscent of ‘30s and ‘40s blues, written by the famed team of Leiber & Stoller. The harp is flawless, as usual, on this selection, and also the opening instrument of this cut. The second selection on the disc, “Nineteen Years Old,” is the first of three Muddy Waters winners.
The instrumentation and vocals are also flawless throughout, which is standard fare from the Nighthawks and the reason they’re true stars in the DC Metro Area and nearby environs. They’re not as widely and wildly received in other parts of the nation, which is the rest of the nation’s loss. They’re guaranteed to have the SRO walls heaving in any place they play. Importantly, however, the more famous names know The Nighthawks, and these people have been perceptive enough to ensure that the group has played 49 states and a dozen countries in their travels.
A live broadcast is expected to contain some glitches here and there, considering they’re usually done in the light of day, taboo to most bluesmen who often play into the early morning hours. However, I detected none. Zero. Standout selections include “I’ll Go Crazy,” written by James Brown, “You Don’t Love Me,” written by Ellis McDaniels, aka Bo Diddley, and "Thirty Days," written by Chuck Berry. “Mighty Long Time,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic, comes in as number eight. Close your eyes and you can see Sonny Boy shuffling that harmonica around in his mouth in that inimitable fashion.
“Rollin’ and Tumblin” is the final cut on Last Train to Bluesville. This tune was one of many made famous by Little Walter’s harp and Muddy’s guitar and vocals, and it’s given more than justice in the treatment rendered here.
The Bayou in DC is long gone, but the Nighthawks prevail!
See my review of American Landscape, another Nighthawks killer disc, here.