12 songs – 53 minutes
Born along the banks of the Piave River in Venice, Italy, axe slinger Alberto Toffoli, aka Guitar Bo’, channels modern electric blues on this funky, fiery release that was influenced by his travels to the U.S.
As a youngster who taught himself how to play, he fell in love with the blues sound. His first exposure to the music came through his association with popular Italian session musician Roberto Ortolan, who turned him on to Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King. Also influenced by the masters of Chicago blues as well as jazz greats Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Grant Green, he developed his chops at the Lizard School Of Modern And Contemporary Music in Florence before going off on his own.
Guitar Bo’ spent time in Austin, Texas, before beginning his recording career in 2001 with the release of the self-produced Live In Darshan, using a power trio format. He was a finalist in a national Italian acoustic guitar competition a couple of years later, during which he released a second disc, Movin’ Up, and began touring internationally with native American singer-songwriter Yowan Nagwetch. He’s also worked regularly with two of the most popular blues artists in Italy, guitarist Enrico Crivellaro and harp player Marco Pandolfi.
Bo’ spent several months in Chicago in 2013, seeking inspiration for this CD, which blends modern electric blues with blues-rock, smooth jazz and roots, a styling he picked up during a stay in Austin, Texas, at the start of the century. Recorded back home in Italy, he’s joined here by a rhythm section of Andrea Fruzzetti (bass) and Carmine Bloisi (drums) with Michele Bonivento on Hammond organ and a stellar horn section of Mirko Cisilino (trumpet), Filippo Orefice (tenor sax) and Max Ravanello (slide trombone). Pandolfi makes a guest appearance on harmonica on three cuts.
Available through iTunes and Google Play, Heavy Love kicks off with a trio of Toffoli originals. The uptempo “Movin’ Up” streaks out of the starting gate, quickly setting the mood for what follows. The tune intersperses horns, vocals and guitar as it delivers a message of joy about dancing and playing despite the pitfalls of life. Guitar Bo’ rips and runs cleanly along the fretboard as he delivers his message in a thoroughly modern manner.
The theme continues at a slower, bluesy pace for “Something In Life,” this time delivering a message that things will get better no matter how down you seem. It features a sweet single-note guitar solo that begins mid-song and runs to the stop-time end. The mood slows for the straight-ahead blues, “Don’t Talk Just Do It,” a six-minute 54-second burner that speaks to fighting through difficulties rather than given in. Once again, Toffoli’s emotional fret work dazzles despite the simplicity of his runs.
An uptempo, gospel-flavored cover of the B.B. King song “Going Home” leads into a block of five more originals. The hard-driving blues-rocker “Red In Blues” features Bonivento on the 88s before the cover tune, “Heavy Love,” a syncopated slow shuffle, strongly suggests keeping focused on what’s ahead and forgetting the good or bad you’ve left behind. The instrumental “Joker Girl” follows. It’s a modern jazz flight of fancy on six strings, with Guitar Bo’ effortlessly modulating a simple lead line to a successful conclusion, aided by swinging trumpet and keyboard solos.
It’s full-force Memphis-style blues for “Tax Free Zone,” about the need for an international free-trade zone, before a Pandolfi harp solo introduces “Stay Awhile For Me,” which is delivered with a Delta feel. Covers of jazz pianist Big John Patton’s instrumental “Funky Mama” and the Bessie Smith standard “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” precede the original “Blues Beans For Bingo” to wrap up the set.
While Guitar Bo’s Italian-accented English still is a work in progress, the musicianship and positive messages delivered here clearly make Heavy Love a winner. The blues truly have evolved from the Mississippi Delta to a world language, and this disc is strong proof that the seeds the first generation of blues stars planted in Europe in the ‘60s have borne tasty fruit. Not your mama’s old one-four-five, but definitely worth a listen.