Albert Castiglia,
Living the Dream
(Blues Leaf, 2012)

The Nighthawks,
Damn Good Time
(Severn, 2012)

Like others of his generation, South Florida's Albert Castigila -- that's pronounced ka-steel-ya -- plays cranked-up modern guitar blues in the inescapable shadow of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Though he does it better than most, what makes him distinctive is the strong material and overall intelligence of his approach. Castigilia aspires to be more than just another loud, partying blues rocker in the blustering fashion that can cause more informed listeners to wonder if actual blues has lost its way or is maybe dead in all but lurching bombast. Fully versed in blues history -- he concludes this set with the pre-blues Mississippi prison song "Parchman Farm" (whatever the credits say, Mose Allison didn't write it) -- Castigilia adroitly avoids the traps, even in the full-tilt moments, which happily aren't all of them.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Castigilia sometimes picks up an acoustic guitar and performs material in a contemporary iteration of folk-blues (Graham Wood Drout's "Sometimes You Win," the original "I Want Her for Myself"), adhering to the model set by Bob Dylan, who I'm sure would approve. Castigilia also is graced with wit and a social conscience, expressed in the above-mentioned Drout composition and in his own ascerbic "The Man," a fierce critique of America's growing economic inequality and attendant corruption of the elites.

Call it blues with all the necessary chops and a working brain besides, and you've got something worth paying attention to on Living the Dream (and for that matter his Keepin On, which I reviewed in this space on 4 September 2010).

The Nighthawks haven't literally been around forever, even if it may seem that way. They were formed more than 40 years ago, in early 1972. Only one original member, harmonica player and vocalist Mark Wenner, remains. Two other members of the four-piece outfit have been with the Nighthawks for a decade. The sound remains consistent: no-nonsense, tight blues, r&b and blues-tinged rock without flourishes, exhibitionism and extraneous notes.

Besides the originals, the Nighthawks have a way of uncovering solid, overlooked material. Damn Good Time opens with a relatively obscure Elvis song, "Too Much," which I hadn't heard or thought about in decades, with the original rockabilly transformed into unadorned bluesy rock. From there, meat-and-potatoes fare is served, and the appetite is filled with a kind of musical comfort food for those who wish post-1960s popular music hadn't gone on only to fill exotic and ephemeral tastes.

I can't say I'm particularly enamored of "Smack Dab in the Middle," a hit for the Scottish band Steelers Wheel in 1973, but then, it's only one of a dozen cuts, and there are certainly worse out there. My tastes run more to the likes of Jimmy McCracklin's "Georgia Slop" and originals "Down to My Last Million Tears" and "Heartbreak Shake." This trivial dissent sounded, I can only add that this is another of the Nighthawks' many good records, maybe even a tad better.

music review by
Jerome Clark

18 August 2012

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