For Back Porch Party, longtime favorites The Nighthawks really do capture the feeling of musicians just playing for their friends in an informal setting without amplification. The acoustic recording was done live to tape with a studio audience at Montrose Studios in Richmond, VA. There were no overdubs or do-overs. What you hear is literally what went down in the studio.
The sound is strong so you won’t miss the amps. The mood is happy and the musicians, lead vocalist and harmonica player Mark Wenner, guitarist Paul Bell, bass player Johnny Castle, and drummer Mark Stutso, play with the effortless skill of a group of people who know each other so well. In addition, all members contribute to the vocals.
The songs are mostly covers and the selection is great. Things start rocking right away with “Rock This House” (Jimmy Rogers) and continue with a surprising version of “Walkin’ After Midnight,” a song so associated with Patsy Cline that it takes a moment to get over the jolt of hearing a man sing it. Once you do, you realize that this song deserves more than one treatment, and this is a good one.
The next song is also a surprise. “Down in the Hole” is a darker number than the rest of the songs on the album, and it is best known as the theme song for the television series The Wire. The Nighthawks handle it very well indeed. The other covers get back to the classic blues, soul, and rockabilly we expect from the group, with exciting versions of Ike Turner’s “Matchbox,” Willie Dixon’s “Tiger in Your Tank,” Lightnin’ Slim’s ”Rooster Blues” and, of course, a tune from Wenner’s mentor Muddy Waters, “Rollin’ Stone” (the same one that English band took their name from).
The Nighthawks’ own songs are equally strong. From the country rock of “Down to My Last Million Tears” to the rockabilly “Jana Lea” and “Hey Miss Hey,” they fit right in. So too does Wenner’s “Guard My Heart” and a song attributed to the whole band, “Back to the City,” which belies the back porch theme by extolling the virtues of the city over the country life.
You will definitely enjoy this album. It is refreshing, authentic, and a whole lot of fun. It will be like a visit with some very talented friends every time you play it.
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