The Nighthawks have been legends for a long time now. For All You Gotta Do, they use all of those years of experience – 43 for vocalist Mark Wenner! – combined with just as much vocal power as they have ever had, to deliver an eclectic mix of songs, a few of which may surprise as well as delight.
The album starts out easy with Wenner delivering a version of “That’s All You Gotta Do” that is pure happy rockabilly. The song was written by Jerry Reed and first recorded by Brenda Lee. But then comes the first surprise, as the band changes it up with a cover of the Larry Campbell-written Levon Helm farewell song, “When I Go Away.” The gospel inspiration of the tribute tune is beautifully captured on the vocals by drummer Mark Stutso, and it is a moving experience.
The Nighthawks are a Chicago blues band though, so of course they have a Muddy Waters cover, “Baby, I Want to Be Loved,” originally written by Willie Dixon. Wenner handles the vocals on this one.
It’s time for another surprise: Randy Newman’s “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield,” a lesser-known song of his that allows guitarist Paul Bell to get in some tasty slide guitar. The band learned the darkly humorous song for a performance of Newman’s songs in D.C.
Everybody sings on this record except Bell, who has his hands full being brilliant (on guitar), so Johnny Castle steps up next with his own song, “Another Day,” a very topical modern day protest song. Stutso then does his original song, the wry “Voodoo Doll.” Love can be torture!
Wenner delivers fantastic harmonica on Sonny Boy Williamson’s rocking “Ninety Nine” before Stutso tears your heart out with “Three Times Your Fool,” which he wrote with Norman Nardini. The band gets to show off their close harmonies on Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So,” and then cuts loose on R.L. Burnside’s “Snake Drive.” Then they have some fun turning “Frere Jacques” into “Blues for Brother John.” Finally, Castle proves himself a natural down and dirty rocker with his remake of The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” now a tribute to D.C. rather than Boston.
The goal of The Nighthawks is to have fun, and you will have fun with this album! They would never have lasted this long if they were not awesome.