The Nighthawks, one of the premier seminal American roots bands of the past 35 years, will release their first studio album in five years, American Landscape, on February 3, 2009 via Powerhouse Records, distributed nationally by Redeye. The new CD marks the studio album debut of the band’s current lineup, in place for the past five years, with original members Mark Wenner (harmonica, lead vocals) and Pete Ragusa (drums, vocals) joined by Paul Bell (guitar, vocals) and Johnny Castle (bass and vocals). American Landscape was produced by The Nighthawks and recorded/mixed at several studios in the band’s hometown area of Washington, DC.
Since the group formed in 1972 and released its first album in 1974, The Nighthawks have been one of the hardest working, most consistent bands of its generation, averaging over 250-275 dates a year and endearing themselves to audiences all over the world with their blue-collar work ethic and universal musical appeal. Two ingredients in the band’s sound have remained constant over the years: the searing blues harp and soulful vocals of Mark Wenner and the solid, rhythmic drumming and vocals of Pete Ragusa.
A roots rock band before the term was used to describe its music, The Nighthawks developed a sound which showcases a talent for combining the diverse elements that make up the entire roots music palette – blues, rock, R&B. rockabilly, soul and swing – to create an original form onto the band, itself. Drawing from a well-spring of talent from the band’s individual members, adding a dynamic live performance presence that keeps audiences coming back for more, and projecting a soulfulness and honesty that transcends the music for a truly visceral experience, The Nighthawks are a unique American music phenomenon.
That tradition continues on American Landscape, as the “new blood” additions of Bell and Castle meld seamlessly with founding members Wenner and Ragusa, to create an even stronger power and energy in The Nighthawks that’s clearly evident from the driving, bluesy opening track, “Big Boy.” The Nighthawks continue to mine the American roots songbook on the rest of the album, with unique covers of music from Lazy Lester (“Made Up My Mind”), Ike Turner (“Matchbox”), Sam and Dave (“Don’t Turn Your Heater Down”), Marvin Gaye (“Try It Baby”), Dan Penn (“Standing In the Way”) and Bob Dylan (“She Belongs to Me” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine).” The band also tips its collective hat to acclaimed writer/director David Simon by dedicating the album to him and performing the title song of his fantastic HBO series, The Wire, “”Down In the Hole,” written by Tom Waits. Over the years, Simon has been a big supporter of the band and featured them onscreen in the second season of The Wire, as well as his NBC series, Homicide: Life on the Street, also using The Nighthawks music throughout both show’s soundtracks. The two original songs on American Landscape are penned by bassist Johnny Castle: the funky, hook-laden rock of “Where Do You Go” and the Cajun/Zydeco-flavored-meets-country-blues of “Jana Lea,” guaranteed to get fans on the dance floor. Continuing the group’s tremendous creativity and versatility, they close out the new CD with “Fishin’ Hole Theme” from The Andy Griffith Show, translating the whistle-along to a country blues/swing number that will surely bring a smile.
Both Johnny Castle and Paul Bell are no strangers to The Nighthawks, having played in several side aggregations with band members over the past several decades. Johnny Castle also spent a number of years with Bill Kirchen’s band; and Paul Bell has previously played with Nils Lofgren (Bruce Springsteen) and Tommy Lepson (Tom Principato). Bell and Castle first appeared on disc as members of the band three years ago when The Nighthawks released a live CD/DVD set, Blue Moon in Your Eye: Live at the Barns at Wolf Trap.