On All You Gotta Do, The Nighthawks illustrate how they've established, then nurtured their vaunted status among the most venerated of American blues units for over four decades and upwards of twenty albums. The changes the band's seen under the tutelage of original founding member Mark Wenner continues unfettered on this self-produced album: the band alternately stretches itself outside the strict confines of the blues genre and brings an unusually broad range of material within its scope and style.
Scanning the track listing reveals songs by blues icons Willie Dixon ("Baby I Want to be Loved") next to contemporary song-smith Randy Newman ("Let's Burn Down the Cornfield"). On each the Nighthawks strut along in saucy style, the former featuring Wenner's harmonica, while the latter remains afloat, as something of a chain-gang song, in the ominous air guitarist Paul Bell's slide guitar conjures up. And the album begins out of left field with its titletune, from Fifties female crooner Brenda Lee, followed by multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell's song for his Woodstock mentor Levon Helm, "When I Go Away."
Further on down the line, North Mississippi Allstars' mentor R.L. Burnside's "Snake Drive" resides right next to Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So," the juxtaposition of which transposes the earthy approach of the former into the late Canadian expatriate's guileless composition. The rhythm section of bassist Johnny Castle and drummer Mark Stutso remain ever sensitive to the nuances particular to the respective songs, here and throughout All You Gotta Do.
The latter's "VooDoo Doll" is one of this record's four band originals, it's tongue-in-cheek tone insuring no listener takes this music any more seriously than the band. That said, the Nighthawks haven't persevered by selling themselves short and they apply a similarly deep-rooted respect to the blues. The ensemble slides so (gr)easily into and through Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Ninety Nine" immediately and flawlessly shifting gears into the slow blues balladry of "Three Times Your Fool."
That writing collaboration of Stutso's with Pittsburgh's Norman Nardini (he of Diamond Reo fame and leader of The Tigers) is an authentic product of the blues and roots the likes of which the Nighhawks emblazon their name. Rather than an empty truism, the assignation becomes understatement by the time the twelve cuts on All You Gotta Do finish flashing by, a point the band drives home by the one-two finish : this band make the mix of grace and grit that is the instrumental "Blues For Brother John" a logical intro to the familiar stomp of the Standells' "Dirty Water."
That's All You Gotta Do; When I Go Away; Baby, I Want To Be Loved; Let's Burn Down The Cornfield; Another Day; VooDoo Doll; Ninety Nine; Three Times Your Fool; Isn't That So; Snake Drive; Blues For Brother John; Dirty Water.
Mark Wenner: vocals, harmonica; Johnny Castle: vocals, bass; Paul Bell: guitar, vocals; Mark Stutso: drums, vocals.