Monday 10 August 2020

Nighthawker - From Wither to Bloom (2020)

Country: Netherlands
Style: Southern Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Jun 2020
Sites: Facebook | Official Website

I got caught by surprise by this second album by Dutch rockers Nighthawker and I've been listening to it a lot to figure out what's happening in their sound. It's clearly rooted in southern rock, but it's quieter and much more subdued than the usual Lynyrd Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet influences. They're surely there, but there's as much Crosby, Stills and Nash to lighten it all. There's easily as much late sixties here as seventies and on.

Instead, the guitars carry some unmistakeable fuzz with them. As bluesy as a song like Dishwasher Blues gets, with Mischa van Dalsen providing some tasty harmonica licks, there's always a connection to more modern stoner pop/rock and that's even more obvious on ongs like Night of the Hunter. The Moonlight Rider takes us back to the late sixties but it sports a psychedelic vibe not a hippie one. I could imagine this played by a band supporting the Doors at the Fillmore.

This versatility impresses me but it's really pretty straightforward. While we're used to bands going back to a point in time and playing everything in the style of that time, Nighthawker are a great example of a band who don't stop at that point in time but work forward from it in a direction that's a logical one for them, creating their music from that thin slice of influence going back through the decades. I just love bands who explore those slices.

The core of the band is four musicians, two male and two female, the latter not being relegated to the roles you might expect. I don't think any of them shine over any of their colleagues, but that's because they work so well as a cohesive band. While the songs here are created by four people, they sound like they're really created instead by a single unit with eight arms and the requisite other bodyparts to do the job right. That helps provide a sort of live feel, as if the various instruments can't be separated and can only be performed together.

There are guests too, with a saxophone on this track and congas on those two but it's the guest vocals that stand out most. Three of the band members are credited with vocals: guitarist Steven van der Vegt on male lead and drummer Kiki Beemer on female lead, with Brandon Spies adding backing vocals to his bass duties. Only guitarist Gwen Ummels doesn't sing, but she provided that gorgeous cover art, so I ain't complaining.

The two songs featuring guest vocals are The Rabbit Hole and Sundown. The former features the talents of singer/songwriter CelineShanice, which I believe is one word not two, and she does a fine job as a complement to van der Vegt. She's even better singing lead for Nighthawker on a cover of Led Zeppelin's What Is and What Should Never Be, which can be found on the band's website. It was the unique voice of Edith Spies-Wawrowska on the latter that really blew me away, though. Her main band is Violet's Tale, who are apparently an old time country outfit for whom she sings lead, and I simply must find out what they sound like, but she fits superbly here as well, even if her voice stands out enough to make it obvious that she's a guest.

It does feel odd talking about vocals here, because Nighthawker are a guitar band, just with subtle guitars for folk with such an overt love for southern rock. There's only one real chicken scratching guitar jam, for instance, at the end of Leaps of Faith, though Mountain Bridge does think about it. Other songs highlight just how varied the guitarwork is here, from Ummels and van der Vegt. They both play acoustic and electric, while the latter also adds a real flavour to the closer, That Train Left the Station, on slide.

This appears to be Nighthawker's debut album, following a couple of 2018 EPs called Escape the Hornet's Nest, named for sides of an LP rather than parts of a continued release. I'll have to track them down along with my expected side journey into what Violet's Tale are doing. And I'll add this band to my "want to see live but probably never well" list. I'd love to experience the feel of a live Nighthawker gig because I have a feeling it might be special.

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