Appaloosa – 2014
13 tracks; 64 minutes
Fabrizio Poggi has been playing the blues for many years in his native Italy as well as across Europe and the USA. In 2013 he worked with Guy Davis on his BMA nominated CD Juba Dance and over the years he has played with many leading American blues artists. His 18th album was recorded in Milan with his regular Italian band Chicken Mambo, a recording of mainly covers from the classic blues canon, with three tracks credited to Fabrizio. The band is Fabrizio on harp and vocals, Enrico Polverari on guitar, Tino Cappelletti on bass and B/V, Gino Carravieri on drums, with Claudio Noseda adding accordion and keyboards to some tracks, Stefano Spina singing B/V’s on one track and adding percussion to two others, Claudio Bazzari adding slide to one track and Sara Cappelletti adding B/V’s throughout and singing lead on one track. Special guest guitarists on one track each are Sonny Landreth, Ronnie Earl and Bob Margolin.
Fabrizio’s vocals are not particularly strong and he sometimes adopts more of a spoken than sung approach; his accent is discernible but does not prevent us understanding the words. That is not an issue on opener “Bye Bye Bird”, a tune by Sonny Boy Williamson II which has very limited lyrics but bombs along with some wild guitar from Enrico and convincing harp from Fabrizio. Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” finds Sonny Landreth adding some appropriately swampy slide to the mix and it’s arguably the strongest cut on the album. Claudio Noseda’s piano is added as well and the whole band plays a storm, inspired by a typical Landreth performance. The cover of Little Milton’s “The Blues Is Alright” fares less well, despite the presence of Ronnie Earl on guitar, as Fabrizio intones the familiar words (plus an additional verse of his own) in his semi-spoken mode of delivery. Ronnie’s picked guitar is in contrast to the full-on electric approach that Enrico generally adopts on the album but the track does not really spark into life.
The first original is “Devil At The Crossroad” which blends some familiar Robert Johnson lines like ‘hellhound on my trail’ and ‘devil at the crossroad’ with a typical Muddy Waters riff. Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (here spelt ‘Mistery’) starts well with some nice organ supporting the rapid rhythm section. Fabrizio gets some good train sounds from his harp solo and the country hoedown feel of the track is well done, including some whooping from the leader. Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” is a less obvious choice and finds Fabrizio playing in the higher register and Sara singing some strong harmony vocals against Fabrizio’s lead. The band returns to SBW II for “Checking Up On My Baby”, another frequently covered tune which swings along well, the organ again adding to the basic quartet.
Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “One Kind Favour” is less often covered than many of the songs here and the band uses a version that has additional lyrics by Guy Davis. It is very different to some we know and love like Canned Heat, played in laid-back style with some gentle rhythm guitar and warm organ. Enrico’s distorted solo seems at odds with the rest of the tune. “Mojo” is claimed as a Fabrizio original but takes so much from Muddy’s tune of a similar name that it is hard to say that it is not a cover. However, few musicians honour Muddy’s legacy better than Bob Margolin and if he was happy to add some trademark slide work to the tune it must be OK!
If there is a tune which should be protected against any further covers it must surely be “Rock Me Baby” and the version here does not add significantly to the many fine versions recorded over the years though the use of accordion is different. The traditional “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” features Sara Cappelletti whose shared lead vocal demonstrates Fabrizio’s limits as a vocalist. Enrico’s solo is wild and rocky. Fabrizio’s “I Want My Baby” uses a familiar blues riff and has very repetitive lyrics but the band plays it well with guest Claudio Bazzari adding some nice slide work.. The CD closes with a short run through of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go”.
And why the title? Fabrizio explains in the liner notes that after the abolition of slavery plantation owners were short of manual labor and recruited poor Italian agricultural workers who were often treated as badly as the slaves who had preceded them. Fabrizio imagines that one Italian might have indeed opened a juke joint and if he had, might it not have been called “Spaghetti Juke Joint”?
There is nothing startlingly new here but some solid versions of old favorites.