Ever youthful, Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins has reissued his much-acclaimed 2003 CD entitled Still Cruisin'. It’s also his most current CD to date. The exuberance Ronnie puts into each tune instills a sense of youthful vigor into this CD, a tie-in between the rockin’ ‘n rollin’ 50s, when he started out, and the present day. Everything about this CD speaks volumes about the man, his music and a lifetime of making people feel a special ‘magic’ in their lives.
This ‘magic’ comes from the love Ronnie shares with each and every person he meets. No rock 'n roll pretensions in the man or his music! That's what makes this new Hawkins CD so special .... and magical! The vibrancy in the music touches the heartstrings on the opening track "Can't Stop Rockin'" and never lets up right though to the all-time super-cool, super-slidin' "Down In the Alley," which ends off this masterpiece where muse meets ‘Rockabilly God’!
Every tune on this CD is an excuse to party, evocative of The Hawk, his lifestyle and his true-to-life image. The first track "Can't Stop Rockin'" was written by Ronnie's musician/producer son Robin Hawkins, who produced the CD. Its energy sets the pace for the whole album. Heavy-duty country/rock/rockabilly at its best as only The Hawk and his great band The Hawks can pull it off!
"Friendship" is a slow country/rock duet sung appropriately by Ronnie with decades-old friend and music biz icon Kris Kristofferson. A bevy of beautiful backup singers, including Ronnie's daughter Leah Hawkins, helps to complement The Hawk's magic on this one. A medium tempo country/rock ballad entitled "Blue Moon in My Sign" follows. It features more superb lead vocals by Ronnie, along with angelic background vocal harmonies and sweet guitar riffs. Bazil Donovan from Blue Rodeo supplies the heavy, thumpin' bass lines on this one, along with some consistently tasteful drumming by The Band's Levon Helm, definitely adding substance to the rhythm section.
"Isn't That So" is atmospheric and moody, right from the start. Mindscape images of ‘voodoo witches’ making ‘magic mojos’ is easily evoked in the imagination in this carefully crafted winner. Levon's blues harp magic along with splendid instrumental harmonies are a perfect blend of talent and musical ingenuity. Add to this beautiful concoction, Ronnie's dynamic lead vocals along with some superb background vocal harmonies. Then the whole musical picture is completely conjured up for the listener's pleasure.
"Foolish" is a medium tempo country/rock ballad, featuring Ronnie's thoughtfully sung vocals, Levon's irreplaceable drum beats and some sweet guitar leads. The background vocals are a fitting complement to Ronnie's vocal laments. "Dangerous" is another moody Hawkins' offering. The Hawk's vivid story-telling gift is put to good use, telling us of "a dangerous man .. he ain't got nothin' to lose." Some incredibly mouthwatering slide guitar and leads adds to Jerome Godboo's lamenting blues harp riffs. The background vocals on this one echo the ‘dangers’.
"Five Dollar Fine for Whining" immediately grabbed this writer in a humorous way, owing to the fact that Ronnie is famous for fining slackers in his band. On the surface, that might seem uncalled for, but the bottom line is that it keeps the band performing and looking their best, and earns Ronnie the respect he deserves. On another level this beer joint classic speaks of raucous good times with wine, women and song. Helping to enliven the fun-loving atmosphere here are Godboo on blues harp and Paul Chapman on bass. Background vocal harmonies are courtesy of Kristofferson again as well as Hawk guitarist Buzz Thompson and two lovely ladies and long-time Hawks, BJ Cook and Bev D'Angelo. Buzz also played slide and lead guitar and sang background vocals as part of The Hawks on other tunes on Still Cruisin’.
"I'm a Lover, Not a Fighter" ("built for speed") is a swingin', upbeat country/rock winner guaranteed to get everyone up on the dance floor and keep them there. Ronnie's vocals are humorous in intent. Lyrics like "Rudolf Vaselino" come right out of the ‘Hawkins School of Comedy.’ The only thing that comes close to Ronnie's way of putting a song across is his ability to deliver a joke or several in a row! Scorching guitar leads on "..Lover..", are complemented by hard drivin' drums, thumpin', pumpin' bass lines and energetic background vocals.
In regards to Ronnie's infectious and unique sense of humor, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, a personal friend of the Hawk and fellow Arkansas native, is known to have taken notes while Ronnie was delivering some of his hilarious one-liners at a private dinner held in his honor by his close friends in late September, 2002. I wish I'd done the same when I was backstage at Ronnie's original CD release party for Still Cruisin’ in Hamilton, Ontario on December 5th, 2002 at the Hamilton Convention Centre.
"Promise Road" is a hard-drivin' gospel/country/rock ballad, echoing the Southern Baptist Church Revival Circuit atmosphere. Lots of energy and exuberance in this tune. Ronnie's driving vocals singing "Keep 'a rockin' on that promised road" are added to with incredible slide guitar, Hammond B3 wildness, heavy-duty bass and drums as well as background vocals oozing Hawk devotion from his Hawks. Deep, but simply put lyrics like "You can do what you want or you can do what you're told" speak volumes in a few words about The Hawk's wisdom that's kept him on top of the music scene for decades.
Ronnie belts his every-lovin' guts out, singing "If That's What I Get" in this energetic country/rock ditty. This tune has some beautiful slide guitar supplied by ex-Hawk Al Brisco, with terrific vocal harmonies as well. The guitar and bass are rousing, to say the least - guaranteed to get the dance floor swingin' 'n swayin' right from the start! Sean Verreault, guitarist for Wide Mouth Mason came in at a moment's notice to sing some great background vocals on this one, as well as on several other tracks.
Big Sugar's lead guitarist Gordie Johnson, plays some fabulous riffs on various tunes. Nine of the eleven tracks were recorded at The Hip’s studio in Kingston, Ont. The other two were recorded at Metalworks in Toronto. Johnny Fay from The Hip, played drums on one tune.
"Five Dollar Fine .... " was done mostly in Malibu, with the help of famed music producer David Foster, (himself an ex-Hawk.) The liner notes thank many talented performers and personal friends of Ronnie's, including guitarists Domenic Troiano, Buzz Thompson and Donnie "Mr. Downchild" Walsh, as well as long-time friends Don Tyson, Reggie Bovaird and former President Bill Clinton. Clinton used to go to Hawkins’ shows at clubs in Arkansas when he was in college. His recollections of those days is captured on film in the award-winning CTV television documentary about Hawkins’ life called Still Alive & Kickin’. It aired on CTV in August, 2004 and is available on DVD.
Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks’ incredible Still Cruisin’ CD ends off with the mesmerizing "Down In the Alley". Brisco's slide guitar on this one really makes it special! The one and only Duane Allman's slide guitar work was featured on the original Hawkins recording, decades earlier. The late Richard Bell (The Band; ex-Hawk/Janis Joplin) and Mike Fonfara (Downchild Blues Band; ex-Lou Reed/Electric Flag) are both incredible keys players whose indispensable talents on the ivories were very evident and highly enjoyable on Still Cruisin'. The piano riffs on "Down In .... " are imaginative, melodic and rousing, adding energy to Chapman's intoxicatingly throbbing bass lines throughout. Ronnie's ultra smooth, easy-to-take, story-telling delivery on the vocals is soothing, while adding mega-hit quality status to this last (and my personal favorite) tune on the CD.
All in all, Still Cruisin' is an incredibly enjoyable CD from beginning to end. It is well thought out and put together with good taste and a real zest for fun partying, reflective of The Hawk himself, Ronnie Hawkins!!! Get it! Play it! Enjoy it! Leave it on 'repeat' for hours! That's all I can say. The superb quality of this wonderfully crafted CD speaks for itself!