Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Count on the Nighthawks to deliver the blues

Let's hear it for good home cooking, reliable customer service, and an emphasis on old-fashioned, high-quality blues rock. Let's hear it for The Nighthawks.

The veteran band has been around for 36 years, launching the career of guitar slinger Jimmy Thackery and providing a base for guitarists like Warren Haynes and Bob Margolis. They serve it up with all the important bases covered: energy, edge, attitude, and chops.

With Mark Wenner leading the way on vocals and harmonica, the Washington band's 22nd album is a solid effort that delivers the goods in a no-frills package of party-worthy jams.

A couple of Bob Dylan covers - "She Belongs to Me" and "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" - are revved up and turned into greasy guitar/harmonica workouts. The band throws in a Tom Waits cover, a little Ike Turner, and a tune from soul great Dan Penn.

The result is the musical equivalent of sitting down in a favorite diner and being served up a heaping plate of comfort food delivered by a waitress who never lets your coffee cup get empty.

In short, reliable and satisfying.


So you're relaxing with this new "Sagarmatha" disc - the title being the Nepalese word for Mount Everest, for what that's worth. And it's good. Really. The opening track, "As The Little Things Go," starts off cool, rather ambient in a guitar-driven way, with a relaxed but distinct rhythm.

But then, not quite five minutes in, it's like, whoa, dude, is this Metallica? The drums are pushing out the speaker cones, the guitar sound is slashing and burning, fuzzy and loud. What's going on?

Hard to say. Except that the Appleseed Cast pulls the same trick on the following track, "A Bright Light," and at other points on the disc. It's not gratuitous by any means, though. Rather, it marks a band that isn't afraid to experiment with sonic impacts, with moods, with its overall sound.

And that can make this hard to categorize. There are elements of prog rock (the good sort), hard rock, metal - even an acoustic track - and a mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks. The songs have great dynamics for the most part, without forgetting the need for melody, and often serious power.

So best not to try to typecast the Cast, but to kick back and enjoy its inventiveness, its individuality, its willingness to take some chances. Because "Sagarmatha" is one of those fortuitous musical surprises that come along every so often - a CD that is powerful, memorable, and demands you pay attention, from a band surely unfamiliar to many listeners.


Loping beats and intricate, almost hypnotic, melodies make this melange of fusion, jazz, and world music a treat for ears tired of the ordinary. Over 11 tracks and more than 75 minutes, an Americanized version of South Asian music styles is riveting - you never know what's going to happen next, but you don't want to miss it.

The high-energy grooves roll in and out of assorted funky sounds, then settle in for some sort of almost-familiar melody before they head off again to who knows where. A collection of Indian instruments, including tabla, sitar, and kanjira weave magic around Haque's remarkable acoustic and electric work.

For listeners unfamiliar with the distinct and sometimes heavily percussive sounds of world music, this stuff can easily be satisfying as jazz by itself. It's the unfamiliar infusion of the different instruments that give it such an unusual feel. It's due in stores this week and is certainly worth a taste.


Much of this album, especially the first half, consists of what can be described as sophisticated bubble-gum pop - something like singer Jordyn Taylor's "Accessory," a fun and snappy, head-twirling opening song that exudes a hefty dose of youthful attitude and exuberance.

But alas, a few ditzy moments occur. Like Greg Laswell slowing down the tempo with a melancholy version of Cyndi Lauper's anthem for free-spirited females, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," which renders the song almost unrecognizable and just doesn't work. Macy Gray's too mellow and - get this - famed composer James Newton Howard ends the disc with something called "Shopaholic Suite."

Nothing too deep, of course. The disc seems caught between get-up-and-go pop and an attempt to reach for something else.


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