Breezy Rodio – Underground Blues | Album Review

Breezy Rodio – Underground Blues

WindChill/Bloos Records BLO-15

14 songs – 56 minutes

Since emigrating from Rome to Chicago in the early 2000s, Breezy Rodio has proven himself as a top-notch bluesman and one of the most distinctive guitarists in the business, and he reaches new heights on his latest CD, a tour-de-force effort that was captured in Texas under the supervision of producer/fret master Anson Funderburgh.

Breezy – a nickname derived from his birth name, Fabrizio – uses his thumb rather than a pick to deliver the tasty single-note runs that serve as his trademark, writing tunes that could have fit comfortably in the golden era of ‘50s Windy City blues and the soul-blues that followed a decade later – not surprising when you consider that he spent a decade as Linsey “The Hoochie Man” Alexander’s bandleader for a decade before launching a solo career himself with the self-produced Playing My Game Too in 2011.

Interspersing blues and soul with a touch of reggae, too, Rodio’s released three other successful albums prior to this one: So Close to It on Wind Chill in 2014 and Sometimes the Blues Got Me and If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It on Delmark in 2018 and 2019. And he shared credits with vocalist Joe Barr on Soul for the Heart, which appeared the French label DixieFrog last year.

Captured and mixed by Stuart Sullivan at Wire Recording in Austin and describes as “Chicago West Side modern blues,” this all-original effort features contributions from Dan Tabion on keys, Josh Fulero on harmonica, Johnny Bradley on bass and Lorenzo Francocci on drums. And Funderburgh steps out from behind the control board to sit in on six-string for two cuts.

Anson’s on lead for the slow burner, “Half Way in the Devil’s Gate,” to open. It’s a haunting number, both because of its theme and because Breezy – who delivers his lyrics with only the slightest hint of his homeland – feels as if he has no heart and that he’s right where he needs to be in order to get away from a woman who’s done him wrong. His emptiness is amplified through the use of reverb and other tricks that render him appearing to be singing from a distance.

Things brighten immensely with the steady shuffle, “C.H.I.C.A.G.O.,” a cleverly penned tribute that spells out all of the positive attributes of Rodio’s adopted hometown, shows off his own six-string skills for the first time and gives Tabion and Fulero space to shine. The funk kicks in for the title tune, “Underground Blues,” a complaint about being in lockdown during COVID-19, which is propelled by a rock-steady guitar riff before Funderburgh joins in on the percussive warning to a game-playing lady that the singer will be “Playing My Game Too.”

Up next, Breezy tries to set an addicted friend straight in the soulful “That Damn Cocaine” before “The Murder” describes a man attempting to escape a woman scorned then serves up more tough love in the unhurried “Lightning Strike” while letting his six-string do most of the talking. The uptempo “The Asymptomatics” gives everyone a chance to workout instrumentally then yields to the 12/8 blues, “Let Me Go,” a lover’s lament that mentions the recently shuttered club, B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, where “everybody knows” the woman’s name.

“Gerry Told Me,” which follows, describes the singer’s determination to carve a name for himself in the music business then gives way to “Hello Friendo,” a Big Easy pleaser with a rhumba beat, prior to “Sugar Daddy,” a traditional 12-bar tribute to blues giants that doesn’t call out anyone by name. Two more pleasers — “Why Did You Go,” a contemporary old-school blues, and “Bluesoned,” an autobiographical number with spoken-word elements in which Breezy states his desire to be a prime mover in keeping the blues alive – bring the disc to a close.

Successfully walking a tightrope between contemporary and traditional, Breezy Rodio serves up a winner here, remaining faithful to his forbears while cutting new ground, too. I liked it, and you will, too!

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