ALBUM REVIEW: The Nightwhawks 'All You gotta Do'

This venerable band is marking its 43rd year with vocalist/harmonicist Mark Wenner as its only remaining original member. Back in 1983, they headlined a blues festival I promoted in their hometown of Washington D.C. At that time guitarist Jimmy Thackeray was fronting the band and they centered on hardcore blues—lots of Muddy Waters tunes. While every Nighthawks album in their storied history nods at least once to Muddy, we’ve seen the band become widely eclectic. Now they are equally comfortable with doo wop, soul, rockabilly, and, of course rock ‘n’ roll. All four members share vocals and the harmonies are quite good. Check out one of their acoustic shows to really appreciate these talents. This album is a great representation too, as it features just the band, no guests. It’s mostly still a throwback sound, hearkening back to the ’50s when R&B and rock ‘n’ roll were converging.

Mark Wenner opens with a rocking version of Brenda Lee’s title track. Drummer Mark Stutso renders a soulful cover of the Larry Campbell-penned personal farewell for Levon Helm, “When I Go Away.” Wenner still seems to be the most hardened blues guy in the band and appropriately, he takes hold of the Willie Dixon classic, “Baby, I Want to Be Loved.” Later, Wenner nods to mentor Muddy in Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine.” Stutso is gifted soul singer, as evidenced by his emotive crooning on the ballad, “Three Times Your Fool,” the album’s best track. Bassist Johnny Castle weighs in with his original, the topically current protest tune, “Another Day,” and his twist on the classic “Dirty Water,” transforming the association with Boston’s Charles River to D.C.’s Potomac. Along the way you’ll hear another transformation, taking R.L. Burnside’s Hill Country Mississippi blues to D.C Go Go, in “Snake Drive.” Covers of classic writers like Randy Newman (“Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield”) and Jesse Winchester (“isn’t That So”) are yet more indication of how the band has embraced genres beyond blues. Guitarist Paul Bell takes no lead vocals but his harmonies and jazzy licks and soaring slide are all over this recording.

Noting the band’s subhead to their logo, “legendary blues and roots band,” this is yet another solid effort that bolsters that claim.

—Jim Hynes

Elmore Magazine
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