Issue 17-13 March 30, 2023

Cover photo © 2023 Bob Seaman

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Yates McKendree. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Bees Deluxe, Gail Ceasar, Austin Jimmy Murphy, Blues Arcadia, Otis Taylor and Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia. Scroll down and check it out!



The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings.

Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible. All submissions are digital. No physical CDs needed.

For complete information, click HERE.

 Featured Interview – Yates McKendree 

imageIf the name McKendree sounds familiar, no doubt you have seen Kevin McKendree’s name in the credits on many records. His keyboard work has appeared on albums by Brian Setzer, Tinsley Ellis, George Thorogood, and Lee Roy Parnell. He also spent 14 years as a member of Delbert McClinton’s band. In recent years, he has been doing production work in his Rock House Studio in Franklin, Tennessee. Last year, he was at the helm for a very special project, Buchanan Lane, the debut album of his son, Yates McKendree.

After hearing the album, and digging into the younger McKendree’s impressive musical talents, you walk away knowing that this young artist will be making beautiful music for many years to come.

Born in Nashville, the younger McKendree was surrounded by music from the start, which is understandable given his father’s storied career. At the age of two, he started playing drums, then switched to piano a year later. It wasn’t until he was five years old that the Yates picked up a guitar in earnest.

“I remember that my Dad would always have Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield, Freddie King, Jimmie Vaughan, and others playing in the house, so I grew up hearing the music, and falling in love with it. Since then, I have continued to dig deeper and deeper into it, a process that still continues to this day.

“I specifically remember hearing “Going Down” by Freddie King as a toddler. My thought at that moment was, yeah, I want to do that. Things just kind of spiraled from there. I never really had any formal lessons. My education came from watching my dad play gigs, and learning by ear. Being around that is what I gravitated to, and what inspired my own journey. I have a love for all of the instruments that I play, and hope to incorporate some piano into my live shows.”

About the age of eight years old, McKendree started sitting in on stage at his Dad’s shows. He joined a band that played locally doing blues covers several years later. Like many musicians, he spent his formative years as a sideman, soaking up what it takes to be a successful front person and band leader.

“I finally reached the point where I wanted to do my own thing. The emotions and musicality of blues music has always inspired me. I feel very deeply about the music, and I want to see it continue. The music has basic human feelings that I believe anyone can relate to. One of my goals is to introduce the music to my generation, and younger people in general. If you convey the music the right way, people can understand it and feel it, almost like an energy force.”

Besides his father, McKendree has a number of key influences, with five being seminal guitar masters.

“One would be T-Bone Walker, then Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Freddie and B.B. King, and finally Otis Rush. They had a huge impact on me. For keyboards, you can count Jimmy McGriff, James Booker, and, of course, Ray Charles are artists that I have learned from.

“T-Bone Walker laid down the form of much of what we hear today, the originator of the single string guitar style of electric blues. In addition to his songwriting, his touch, his tone, his vocal style, really hits me in that special spot. Watson had that aggressive attack on guitar, a biting, edgy sound that gave him a unique sound, plus his incredibly soulful vocals. Watson has a similar approach to Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones) in that both did this wild, all-out plucking of the strings. My cover of Slim’s tune, “It Hurts To Love Someone,” on my album has an combination of both.

“As far as Otis Rush, his vibrato is my favorite on the planet. When he hits a note on the guitar with the vibrato, it makes you feel something. He had such a wide, deep vibrato. And his singing was off the wall, it is unbelievable how it hits you in your soul, it is so powerful, at least for me.

image“I grew up listening to Freddie King’s instrumentals, with that cool Texas thing going on. His playing has always resonated with me. The way he played and the licks that he went for spoke to me. With B.B. King, I remember being about ten years old and discovering a live album he did in 1966 called Blues Is King. The rawness, and the emotional aspect of it, you can tell he is in the moment, and the crowd is feeling it. Hearing that record shattered my mind, and I still listen to it obsessively to this day.

“So you will hear little bits of each of those artist in my playing. But the bottom line is that I am constantly seeking to find my own sound, which is an amalgamation of an enormous amount of the old soulful music that I grew up listening to, and loving!”

As far as vocals, McKendree didn’t start singing until he was about 17 years old. Up to that point, his focus had been strictly on the music.

“I was very insecure about about my voice, but had the determination to just do it. So I worked on my vocals by singing along to B.B. King records. That is how I taught myself to sing. I did that for a couple of years, until I was comfortable enough to sing out in public. Never had a voice lesson, learned it all by ear.”

On his debut album, McKendree co-wrote two songs with help from noted songwriter Gary Nicholson. He also composed “Out Crowd,” the opening instrumental that showcases his piano skills, and the closing number, ‘Voodoo,” a funky workout on guitar, with a big assist from his father on the Hammond organ.

“My songwriting starts with inspiration from real life. I have the good fortune of being able to write with Gary. We put our heads together musically, talk about life until we come up with some good ideas. I am deeply rooted in the blues traditions, so musically I want to convey it the way I want to convey it. The combination of Gary’s lyricism and my musicality makes for a strong combination. The two we co-wrote on the album, “Wise” and “No Justice,” stem from heartbreak, and the pain you feel going through it. You might want that person back, but you also realize they may not be the one for you, that there is a better person out there. On both of those tracks I did the vocal, the guitar parts, plus Hammond organ, bass and drums.”

The rest of Buchanan Lane is filled with covers of songs from a wide variety of artists. To his credit, McKendree bypasses the well-worn classics, offering a fresh batch of quality material from some surprising sources.

“I wanted to do Dr. John’s “Qualified” because it was a song that got stuck in my head. It has a great groove with cool lyrics. I am a huge fan of his, and I think he deserves more recognition for being such a spectacular musician, so I wanted to pay tribute to him. A lot of what moves me the most is not the common stuff, it is the songs that I discovered as I dug deeper and deeper. Now I want to hip people to the music, to inspire them to dig deep for themselves.

When it comes to the gear he uses, McKendree has several favorites that he can’t imagine living without.

“I go through different moods, which helps determine what I decide to play. Right now, I have a 1967 Gibson ES-175 that I have been playing a lot. I really love the tonality of it. Then there is an ’08 or ’09 Gibson SG Classic with P-90 pickups that has also been getting a lot of work. For my amplifier, I use a 1971 Fender Super Reverb amp that I adore. I don’t feel that I can find that tone with any other amplifier, so the Fender is my go-to choice. My guitar cable goes straight into the amp, no pedals or effects.”

imageFor his backing band, the guitarist gets help from friends in the Nashville music scene, like-minded musicians who are willing to jump in and study the music with a similar passion.

“I have a good friend, Griffin Photoglo, on drums. Currently Sean McDonald is on second guitar. He is an up-and-coming young blues artist that I think is absolutely incredible. He is so rooted in the tradition that he blows my mind every time I hear him. It means so much to me to be able to make music with him. On bass, I have another friend, Gregg Garner, who was in my first band. I have been making music with him since I was 11 years old. And, of course, my Dad on keyboards. I certainly look up to him, and I think he is proud of me, which means a lot.

“I know one of these days that Sean is going to go off and do his own thing, but I still want to keep working with him. I have other musician pals like guitarists Jon Hay and Jad Tariq, who are both in John Nemeth’s Blue Dreamers band, who are really great cats. There is such a lack of the traditional scene in the younger generation. But there are some musicians like those guys, and Jontavious Willis, that give hope for the future.”

On the album, McKendree utilizes some veteran musician who have also had an impact on his musical development.

“Big Joe Maher plays drums on seven songs. I chose him because I grew up around him, so I have been hearing his vast songbook of all of the rare and deep blues stuff that he knows since I was a toddler. He has been a major factor in my development. That also holds true for Steve Mackey, who plays upright bass on seven tracks. I grew up with him around. Drummer Kenneth Blevins is my godfather. He plays drums for John Hiatt, and has played with John Prine, Earl King, Snooks Eaglin, and other New Orleans cats. He has been around since I was born.”

Buchanan Lane has been receiving plenty of positive press. Now McKendree is hoping that his booking agent, Scott Boyer at North Shore Artists, can line up some tours so that the guitarist can start expanding his fan base.

“We are definitely working on getting out there. We have some dates on the books including appearances at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas and the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues festival in Washington state. We have started putting together a second album, so I am actively listening to more music and picking out songs for that project. I am elated that people have been liking the my first record. I put it out because of my love of music, and to see people enjoying it, I can’t express what that means to me.

“The challenge is to stay inspired. My goal is to get younger people to understand how relatable, viable, and current blues music can be in it’s traditional form. If you have ever been sad in your life, you can understand it on some level. And if you have ever been happy, you can connect to the music on a human level. I want people of my generation to know that, and embrace it. Jazz and classical music have been studied as indispensable forms of music. It is the same with blues. It is American music that needs to continue and be enjoyed. Getting people to hear this natural, humanistic music live can make a huge difference. It means so much to many listeners, as the root of most forms of modern music.”

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageBees Deluxe – Don’t Touch That Dial! Live at WUML

Slapping Cat Records SLAPCD022

11 songs – 56 minutes

A four-piece ensemble based in Boston, Bees Deluxe aren’t your standard blues band. For the past decade, they’ve been on a self-described mission to combine the sounds of 1960s Chicago blues and New Orleans funk with old-school Blue Note jazz and amp it up for fans in the 21st century. That’s exactly what they do with this CD, which was recorded live and broadcast from a radio studio on the campus of University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

And the Bees’ lineup is just as unusual as the music they play. They’re led by British-born guitarist Conrad Warre and Carol Band, who doubles on keyboards and harmonica. His work on guitar was a featured component in the U.K. ska/punk movement with The Specials, The English Beat and The Selector as well as with new wave giant Joe Jackson. He’s also a music journalist whose words have appeared in Melody Maker, Blues Blast and other major publications around the world.

Carol, meanwhile, is a Connecticut native who grew up in the church and played folk and rock in coffeehouses. With diverse influences that come from Bill Evans, Ray Charles and John Medeski, she came to the blues after meeting and sharing a drink with B.B. King when he came to Beantown.

Their rhythm section is just as interesting. Bassist Adam Sankowski is a veteran of Boston’s fertile indie rock scene, and, when not performing, works as a music therapist with cancer patients at Massachusetts General Hospital. And Paul Giovine is a Berklee College of Music-educated percussionist who spent his youth working in bands that opened for Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley.

The music on this disc first appeared on “Blues Deluxe,” a three-hour weekly radio show that executive producer John Guregian has been hosting on WUML-FM since 1979. It was recorded live and on vintage analog equipment by Elizabeth Becz and produced, mixed and mastered by Joe Egan.

An interesting version of Michael Burks’ “I Smell Smoke” opens the action with Band providing instrumental accents and the mid-tune solo as Warre handles vocals before delivering an extended six-string solo to close. While it lacks the potent, emotional attack of the original, it’ll still will grab you. Carol shifts to harp for the original, “Beer,” a medium-tempo shuffle in which Conrad states all he wants is a brew despite wanting, needing and preparing to leave a loved one.

The tempo slows for the percussive ballad “That’s What I’m Living For,” which advises the lady to take and say whatever she wants – but leave him his shoes — as she heads for the door. Warre’s guitar skills come to the fore throughout the six-plus minute “Queen Midas,” a lady who truly has a golden touch and a glance that can turn anything in her path to stone. It’s an odd number with the repeating, never clarified line – “Wait a minute/Something is wrong…” – which leaves the listener puzzled.

An instrumental cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” is up next, delivering a darker, bluesified, hypnotic take with Warre and Band trading leads throughout and Sankowski and Giovine mirroring the deep-in-the-pocket Funk Brothers beat. The feel continues in the quiet original, “Letter from Jail,” which recounts a day behind bars, before the Bees revisit two Windy City classics, a slowed-down, haunting take of Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” that Conrad makes his own, and a funky nine-minute workout of Otis Rush’s “Homework.”

Two more originals – the instrumental “Imaginary Conversation Between Björk & Buddy Guy” and the bluesy-psychedelic “Flat Earth Conspiracy,” which features Carol on mic – precede a sweeping, completely reworked take on Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)” to close.

Definitely not your father’s blues and somewhat subdued throughout, but definitely worth a listen. Bees Deluxe delivers on their mission.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageGail Ceasar – Guitar Woman Blues

Music Maker Foundation LC VOL56

12 songs – 29 minutes

Sometimes it takes a miracle for an artist to find a major audience, and that’s exactly the case for Piedmont-style guitarist Gail Ceasar. A little more than a year ago, she was at home in rural Virginia when she smelled smoke, and in a heartbeat, her furnace exploded and her home went up in flames.

She, her mom and her year-old niece were spared. But she was only able to grab her pocketbook and phone before the flames consumed everything else she held dear, including her guitars and amp, seemingly robbing her of her only means of making a living. Fortunately, one of the first calls she made was to Music Maker Foundation, the North Carolina-based non-profit, which came to her aid.

Music Maker has provided support for dozens of blues artists in dire need or failing health since its founding by Tim Duffy in 1994 with a roster that’s included such major artists as Guitar Gabriel, Precious Bryant, Ernie K-Doe, Jerry “Boogie” McLain and scores of lesser-known names, too, all of whom have been supported by donations along with a growing catalog of CDs like this one, too.

Born in Pittsville, Va. – a hamlet halfway between Lynchburg and Danville – in 1984, Gail grew up in a family of stone masons, storytellers and musicians. Her uncle, Pete Witcher – a traveling country bluesman, taught her how to play during his trips through town. Today, Ceasar attacks the strings in an authentic, rhythmic Piedmont fingerpicking style that would make her musical forbears Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake and Buddy Moss smile. The notes she plays on her new Martin acoustic ring like a bell, and she’s got a sweet soprano to match.

Gail makes her recording debut with this album, delivering a set culled from classics that bridge the Piedmont, country, bluegrass and blues traditionals. The sole exception is the title tune, her first-ever composition.

First recorded by Henry Whitter in 1923, “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” opens the action with Ceasar deftly playing lead on the higher strings in counterpoint to rhythm on the lower ones. The steady-rolling original, “Guitar Woman Blues,” follows and includes a stellar fretwork that includes two tasty guitar breaks. “Uncloudy Day,” a traditional gospel number made famous by the Staple Singers in the ‘50s and Bob Dylan in the ‘60s, is up next before Gail reinterprets Jimmy Reed’s familiar “You Don’t Have to Go” into a honeyed country blues.

Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” and the country standard, “Rocky Top,” bookend a great instrumental take of “Blues Stay Away from Me,” a number penned by ‘30s Grand Ole Opry stars The Delmore Brothers. “Sweet Home Chicago,” which follows, has roots that extend far earlier than when Robert Johnson first recorded it, and Gail’s reading has a rich, traditional feel.

“Hear My Mother Play” – a tune by John Whitfield Vaughan, who penned hits for Thomas Dorsey in the ‘20s – precedes Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind” and the traditional “I’m Not the One” before “The Refuge of My Soul,” a pre-War gospel number by J.B. Coats, brings the action to a close.

Unfamiliar with Piedmont blues? Give this one a listen. It’s like candy for your ears, and you’ll be craving more!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageAustin Jimmy Murphy – Blues Salad: The Avocado Sessions, Part One


10 songs time – 43:15

Austin Jimmy Murphy presents a CD compiled from a 2012 4 CD box set he released in 2012 called A History Of Blues. It consisted of recordings between 1978 and 2008. I have no idea why it is called The Avocado Sessions. The current CD consists of 10 songs culled from that box set, all being full band material. Jimmy, being originally from the Syracuse, New York area, used musicians from that area. Several of whom I am familiar with from L’il Georgie & The Shufflin’ Hungarians, a band that had a New Orleans R&B slant. They took their name from one of Professor Longhair’s band incarnations. George Rossi himself plays piano on 4 tracks, drummer Mark Tiffault is on 8 of the 10, bass player Paul LaRonde on 1, and Frank Grosso plays horns on one track. Outstanding harmonica man Tom Townsley is featured throughout. Austin Jimmy supplies the strong vocals, as well as piano and bass. He also wrote 9 of the 10 songs, along with producing them.

Jimmy uses a blues voice affectation on “Goin” Home”, giving the tune a downhome blues feel. A good preview is given of Tom Townsley’s sharp harmonica technique along with Austin Jimmy’s piercing guitar attack. Their reading of “Saint James Infirmary Blues” is rather appropriately haunting via Austin Jimmy’s piano and guitar. Mournful harmonica over strummed guitar and snare drum highlights the intro to the slow and lumbering “Hey Brother”.

The jump blues of “I Ain’t Got No Money” features the piano stylings of George Rossi along with the horn section of Frank Grosso and John Kane. George Rossi brings along his lively piano to the occasion. Jimmy adds some classy hipster jazz guitar. What is a blues album without some sexual innuendo, I ask you? Try “Little Tiny Kitty Cat (I see your eye a peeping)”. Townsley’s harmonica and Rossi’s piano seem to pop out of the mix into your room.

Austin Jimmy dips back into his blues diction for “Oh Darlin'”. “Hey baby won’t you take a walk which me”. Townsley spreads his harmonica goodness all over this puppy. “My Baby Says She Loves Me” is a cool blues walk with guitar and harp over Rossi’s piano. The boys clock out with the less than two minute upbeat ditty “She Ain’t Nothin’ Like That”.

A nice helping of well played and conceived blues, who could argue with that? Austin Jimmy surely enlisted a first rate crop of players for these sessions. Although the recordings go back quite some time, they remain fresh and vibrant. This is an enjoyable listen for blues fans and just lovers of good music. Austin Jimmy currently lives in El Paso…Go figure.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageBlues Arcadia – Now or Never


11 songs – 41 minutes

It has been four long years since Blues Arcadia’s Carnival Of Fools was warmly reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine. Thankfully, Now Or Never shows no signs of being that “difficult second album”. Instead, we have 11 well-crafted and self-written tracks that tread a fine line between blues, soul and rock. The Australian band describes their sound as “dirty soul” and that is actually a pretty apt designation.

Comprising Alan Boyle on vocals, Paula Girvan on keyboards, Jeremy Klysz on bass, Casper Hall on drums and Chris Harvey on guitar, Blues Arcadia are a mightily exciting band. The rhythm section of Klysz and Hall lays down a variety of irresistible grooves over which Girvan and Harvey play a series of interesting and very funky rhythm parts (check out “Postmodern Times” for how to make a modern blues song structure) and ear-catching solos. Boyle’s excellent, passionate voice fits the music perfectly. Boyle and Harris co-wrote all the songs. Boyle has a clever way with lyrics, while the structures of the songs are consistently unexpected.

Guest musicians include Clint Allen and Dan Quigley on trumpet, Cassie Whitehead on tenor saxophone and Alex Price on tenor and baritone saxophone.

Now Or Never was recorded and missed by Jeff Lovejoy at Blackbox Studios in Moorooka, Queensland, Australia, with additional recording by Casper Hall at Sound Out Studios in Morningside, Queensland, and mastering by Matthew Gray. Kudos to all for capturing some blistering performances so pristinely.

The opening track, “Dollar Bill”, sets out the Blues Arcadia stall nicely. Harvey’s choppy, edgy guitar leads the band into a funky groove and a giant earworm of a chorus. Boyle’s airy voice recalls that of early Bobby Tench and indeed the entire band sometimes recalls that second Jeff Beck Group of 1971/72 with its blend of blues, soul, funk and rock. The focus is very much on the song, so “Cry Baby” sounds like the sort of song Eric Clapton wishes he could have written in the 1980s while “Follow The Leader” is perhaps funkiest track on the record. The blues-soul of “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now” floats on Girvan’s dreamy chord progression, while the closing ballad “More Than Less” features just Harvey’s jazz-tinged guitar chording and Boyle’s desperate voice for the first minute and a half before the rest of the band kicks in. Girvan’s sparse piano stands out on the title track.

Blues Arcadia are a seriously impressive band and Now Or Never is a hugely enjoyable release. Check it out.

Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageOtis Taylor – Otis Taylor’s Banjo

Octave Records

11 tracks – 55 minutes

Before we get into the details of the songs or the history of the musician, let’s first look at the basic engineering of the album. As clearly splashed on the back of the album, it has been “Recorded in Pure DSD”, which is the highest resolution available for digital downloads, and further shows the cd is in “Hybrid stereo SA-CD”. Both point to a high-definition listening experience.

Next, let’s look at the title. The banjo has long been a major part of Otis Taylor’s songs. However, he has long interspersed the banjo with his guitar. While the banjo is demonstrably out in front in the album title, the instrument is only utilized on four of the eleven songs.  Otis explained that while the banjo is certainly one of his instruments of choice, the term banjo to him also expresses an attitude or a reach to a good feeling.

Otis started as a bluesman back in 1960’s Chicago. He moved first to Denver and then to London. He stepped away from music in 1977 and started an antique business but eventually returned to the music releasing his first album in 1997. He has not shied away from controversy in any of his albums as can easily be determined form the titles of his first three album releases, “Blue Eyed Monster”, “When Negroes Walked the Earth”, and “White African”. He remains outspoken against racial injustice, drug-use and social concerns on all of his subsequent albums including this new release. His music balances somewhere between a folk and hill country style.

The album consists of five new originals and six remasters of previously released Taylor originals. Otis provides vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica, and kazoo on the various tracks. Taylor stalwarts J.P. Johnson plays lead guitar, Nick Amodeo is on bass and mandolin, Brian Juan plays the organ, piano and Moog synthesizer, and Chuck Louden is the drummer. Joseph Howe and Beth Rosbach show up on cellos on three cuts.

Each song on the album has Otis Taylor’s own description of the background of the song. I will quote his statement for each song as it clearly lays out his basis of what he wrote. The opening track “1964” is the date when he first started playing in a band. His notes say that the song was “Inspired by my friend Billy Hillyard, who told me a story about Travelling to Morocco.” On the song he says he wants to travel “on a ship with no sails” and “sit on the sand and play with you on the beach”. He does a little jazz scat at the end of the song.

“A grandmother’s advice to her Black grandson is to watch what you do.” Her advice was to be careful what you say or do, where you walk as somebody might “Write a Book About It”. The banjo provides a bouncy, happy feel to the song.

“See My Face” looks back to a story of “On A Plantation, an old blind man gives orders to an enslaved black man.” Juan’s organ provides the lead with a guitar drone emphasizing the song behind Taylor’s banjo. On “Travel Guide” “A Black world traveler wants to bring his lover home to New Orleans.” Taylor pulls out his harmonica on this one and blends with Juan’s synthesizer which brings a consistent driving rhythm to the song.

Otis goes solo playing both the guitar and banjo on “12 Feet Under” as “A man believes he is good, but he dines with the devil.” He says “Hey, hey people walk across my grave.” On Friday afternoon, he had dinner with the devil, and he asks for help from above as he is 12 feet under.

“Little Willie” tells the story of “A young boy shot dead on the playground and his mother is telephoned.” This is a tragic tale of a mother’s despair at the unexpected loss of a child, something that is getting repeated way too often in our current times. “Sometimes a letter isn’t signed, but you know where it came from” in a “Nasty Letter”. He hopes “his tears dry on the paper and his lips turn to stone…as he has been wronged.”

On “Resurrection Blues”, Otis says “Some people have to suffer before they die, like Jesus did. Some have cancer, AIDS, or other illnesses. But they don’t want to be Jesus.” Johnson’s guitar and Juan’s organ provide an intense backing to Otis’s declaration that “I don’t want to be Jesus”.

“A Black man sings about fighting for freedom. ” He says he “hides from the right”, and “Hit from the Left” to fight for freedom. Otis banjo’s drives the song. On “American Dime” “An American traveler in France remembers his girlfriend’s injected-drug addiction. Blue lights in a bathroom make it difficult for users to see their veins.” The trio foregoes the drums on this one as Amodeo adds the mandolin to Juan’s piano to offer a sad recollection.

An eight and half minute upbeat ballad and declaration to “Live Your Life” “…before you die” offers Amodeo’s jazzy piano blending with the cellos to deliver a smooth, optimistic end to the album.

Otis Taylor’s strained vocals and controversial positions might make this a difficult album for many listeners. But his somewhat mono-toned singing is nonetheless captivating and aids the delivery of his messages.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageMike Zito & Albert Castiglia – Blood Brothers

Gulf Coast Records – 2023

11 tracks; 48 minutes

Given their great friendship and musical collaborations, it was only a matter of time before these two artists combined on a record and here it is, courtesy of Zito’s record label and the increasingly successful production team of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith. Recorded at Dockside Studio in Louisiana, the disc features five originals and six covers, played by a band that combines most of the two guitarists’ regular sidemen: Lewis Stephens (keys), Doug Byrkit (bass) and Matt Johnson (drums) from Zito’s band, Ephraim Lowell (drums) from Castiglia’s. In addition there are contributions from Lemar Carter (drums), Calvin Turner (bass), Steve Patrick and Mike Haynes (trumpet), Jimmy Bowland (sax), Jonathan Salcedo and Matt Jefferson (trombone), Jade Macrae and Danielle DeAndrea (backing vocals); both Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa add some guitar parts.

The album opens with two Zito originals. “Hey Sweet Mama” is classic Rn’R, pounding drums, great guitar riff, rocking piano and guitar solos from both guys who share the vocals, a good choice as first single off the album and no doubt a great song for the live show. Written after his wife’s diagnosis with cancer, “In My Soul” is inevitably an emotional song. Zito sings it brilliantly, initially over just acoustic guitar before the band comes in, the backing vocals soaring, the guitar riffs recalling 70’s classics while the central section adds some searing guitar to the mix, an excellent track and an early highlight. Tinsley Ellis offered “Tooth And Nail” for the session, a piece of blues-rock that Castiglia sings as both men play some killer slide over a core riff that could be a rocked-up version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me”.

Nashville-based Fred James is the source for two tunes on the album. First up is “Fool Never Learns”, Castiglia on vocals doing a great job on this mid-paced tune on the only cut with horns, giving a real big band feel. Later on the album we get James’ “You’re Gonna Burn”, a slow blues with fine guitar work over dramatic drum work (presumably from both drummers) and Castiglia emoting suitably on the angst-ridden vocal. Castiglia’s only writing contribution is “A Thousand Heartaches”, a sensitive ballad with thoughtful lyrics: “Had the stars aligned between us we’d have made the heavens shake, maybe in the next life there’ll be no more heartaches”. Musically we have warm organ, sensitive piano and delicate backing vocals, plus guitar from Joe B, another outstanding cut. Graham Wood Drout has been a regular contributor to Castiglia records over the years and here provides a rocker in which the author sees himself playing music until the very end, when they can “Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away”. Rocking piano pushes this one along and the guitars rock out too – great fun. There is also a rapid-fire version of “My Business”, a John Hiatt song with some fiery slide work.

The album concludes with Zito’s cautionary tale of the “No Good Woman”, a mid-paced rocker with Zito’s distinctive vocals warning us of the pitfalls of such a relationship, concluding that “a no good woman needs a no good man”. Credited to Zito and Josh Smith, “Hill Country Jam” is a super instrumental with lots of guitar work as the two principals exchange a series of choruses over an evolving soundscape that goes through several changes in direction, making it a great listen for anyone who enjoys the instrumentals of bands like the Allmans. “One Step Ahead Of The Blues” was recorded by JJ Cale, a song written by Tulsa musician, the late Roger Tillison. In this version an acoustic background is overlaid with shared vocals and guitar before developing into an electric version from the mid-point; again, lots of fine picking from both guys on this one to close the album.

This is a fine effort by all involved and offers terrific performances from both front men. Together with tunes from each man’s back catalogue there will be plenty of great material for the forthcoming tour which should make it a hot ticket.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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