Ernie Hawkins hails from Pittsburgh. Not exactly a hotbed of acoustic blues, but Hawkins is one of the best. I’ve not run across any of his other work, although his bio says he’s been recording since 1980. He spent much of his youth studying with the Rev. Gary Davis, so it’s not hard to see why he’s so adept.
His very elaborate and soulful country blues finger-picking style comes across from cut one, a cover of Merle Travis’ “I Am a Pilgrim.” He also shows a nice, relaxed voice that fits the feel of these songs perfectly.
There are various styles on display here. He tears up the Rev. Gary Davis’ rag: “Slow Drag.” “Root Hog or Die” is an almost vaudevillian dirge with a great clarinet solo and cool lyric. By the way, there’s a couple of nice clarinet solos on here by Lou Screiber. Blind Willie McTell’s “Broken-Down Engine” gets some very nice playing. Another highlight is “I Belong to the Band,” which features Maria Muldaur on lead vocals (the track is also featured on her latest album, reviewed here last month). It’s a great performance by all concerned. Ernie closes the CD with a very nice “Amazing Grace/Tribute to blind Willie McTell.” It’s a song that, as Ernie writes in his liner notes, sums everything up.
This is the kind of playing a lot of us aspired to when we were young.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.