Mike 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.