Mike Zito – Blues for the Southside
17 songs, 1 hour and 43 minutes
Many professional working class musicians (meaning not the 1% Taylor Swifts or Beyonces) have 2 modes: road dog and studio rat. The normal cycle is to record a record, tour on the record for 2-5 years, repeat. For a music that is elegantly simple and monolithic at its core, the Blues offers the musician a clear and straightforward canvas on which to create and many musicians are singular in their output often capturing raw in the moment energy both in live performance and recorded production. More road dog than studio rat. But, some Blues artists take a page from the record production milestones of the 60’s and 70’s when the Beatles (and many others) began to use the recording studio as the canvas; channeling the studio rat. Mike Zito is one of these musicians. A daredevil recording artist and producer, Zito has distinguished himself over the last few years as the alt-Blues forerunner releasing deep complex studio pieces such as Albert Castiglia’s 2019 Masterpiece and his own 2021 Resurrection. To balance his experimentation Zito has offered his fans in Blues for the Southside a double disc, high flying straight ahead Blues love letter.
Mike Zito is a superb Bluesman and his live performance is electrifying. Blues for the Southside is his 3rd live album and far and away his most satisfying. Recorded in his hometown of St. Louis at the Old Rock House the day after Thanksgiving 2021, Southside is a one night only document of Zito and his exceptional band letting loose after the long dry spell of the Covid lock down. Matthew Johnson on drums, Texas legend Lewis Stephens on piano and organ and Doug Byrkit on bass push and pull with Zito effortlessly moving through some of the most rocking and hard charging pieces from the back catalog. The hometown crowd is up for the post Thanksgiving party; that Friday after turkey day is always a big night out right? Unlike some live albums where the listener feels like a viore peeping from afar, Southside draws the listener into the party and the electricity between performers and audience.
Mike Zito’s guitar genius is on full display. A facile, soulful guitarist, Zito blisters through multiple styles of Blues and Rock, at times brandishing a slide and alternatively crunching deeply with distorted chaos and smoothly floating along. Always distinct, one only needs to hear his cover of the Stevie Ray signature “Texas Flood” to understand Mike’s unique voice. On “Texas Flood” Mike plays the classic SRV riffs but he phrases them differently, he embellishes some and strips bare others. He opens up the repertoire obligatory structure of the song and allows his personal take to come shining through. This is equally true of his impassioned singing. He manipulates Stevie Ray’s signature drawl-ed phrasing. Check out how he returns for the final verse after his extended clinic of a solo. Starting the vocal phrase with a tension filled minor note, Mike completely elevates this well weathered chestnut into something personal and unique.
There are 3 guest guitarists who joined Zito and Co. on stage that night. Labelmates Tony Campanella and Dave Kalz each spar with Zito in double guitar reverie. The stand out performance is when Zito and cosmic genius Eric Gales commune on Jimi’s “Voodoo Chile.” This is not the often covered rocked out “Slight Return” but the earlier sequenced Electric Ladyland slow Blues grind. Mike told Blues Blast in a recent interview that his dear friend Gales was simply attending the show when he was asked to come up and contribute. The impromptu nature of the performance shines through with adventurous loose playing from both masters that rivals the original Hendrix version for creativity and emotion.
Mike Zito is a dynamic, complex and visceral Bluesman. A true road dog, Zito makes the rent by traveling around and proselytizing the good word of the Blues. But Zito is also an adventurous recording artist who at a young age was bit by the studio bug and has ever since been a studio rat. After a number of years of indulging his studio jones, Blues for the Southside is a testament to Mike Zito’s raw live Blues power and his well rounded talent.