Mike Zito has taken the blues word by storm and he has become a force to be reckoned with over the past two decades. Releasing his first album Blue Room in 1998, he has reached an even dozen with the release of this album. A founding member of Royal Southern Brotherhood and leader of his own band The Wheel, Zito seems to have limitless energy. He signed and recorded with Ecleto Groove and now records with Ruf Records. As a producer, he has worked with Samantha Fish, Laurence Jones, Albert Castiglia, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos and others; Tom Hambridge produced this CD for Mike. Originally from St. Louis, Zito was heavily influenced by that blues tradition. He has won several Blues Music Awards over the last 10 years and is currently touring with Tommy Castro and the Painkillers on the Six Strings Down Tour.
Zito provides vocals and guitar, Hambridge is on drums and one harmony, Tommy MacDonald is on bass and Rob McNelley is on guitar. Walter Trout appears on guitar for “Highway Mama,” Kevin McKendree appears on organ and piano for several tracks, Jason Ricci is on harp for a pair of songs, and Zach Zito is on guitar for “Chip Off the Block.” Hambridge had a hand in all ten original cuts and Zito was involved in writing half of them with him.
Right off the top we get some primal guitar with Zito and Trout trading licks on “Highway Mama.” Wicked slide guitar is featured here, getting the blood flowing in anticipation of the energy and fun to follow. B3 and piano add to the mix. Zito howls with the guitars backing him in this high energy and driving blues rocker. “Wasted Time” follows, a driving blues cut with a stinging guitar lead and huge solo. Things get toned down a bit with the ethereal start of “Red Bird” but then a big mid-tempo back beat begins and the guitar and vocals light off. A heavy and long guitar solo is a prominent feature on this track. The tempo gets driven way up for “Crazy Legs,” reminding me a lot of ZZ Top. The guitars wind and wind in a whirl of excitement behind Zito and then the solo blows up into a frenzy of guitar goodness. The title cut is good old slow blues with Jason Ricci blowing some dirty harp as Zito asks, “What are we fighting for?” Ricci gets the big solo here and he is featured throughout- well done! “On the Road” is another cut with a forthright beat, huge guitar solo and nice B3 organ and piano. “Bad News is Coming” is a slow Luther Allison blues with B3 and piano, more strident guitar. Zito’s vocals are filled with grit and passion and the band builds sweetly to support his solo. He does another verse/chorus and then things take off again to go out.
“One More Train to Ride” has Ricci return with his harp. Hambridge adds his vocals and the piano work by McKendree makes for a delicious mélange of music. “Girl Back Home” is a slow country blues ballad with vocals and slide trading off the lead. The boogie woogie and barrelhouse cut “Chip Off the Old Block features both Zitos and some big time piano work. Both guitarists get solos and build the song into a cool piece overall. “Road Dog” is more sublime slow blues with organ and piano and a deep guitar lead. The final track is Clarence “Bonton” Garlow’s “Route 90,” originally from 1954. Based on aCajun chord progressions, Garlow’s song was taken by Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and the Beach Boy’s “Surfin’ USA” as adaptions of the song as have other artists over the years. It’s been covered by Johnny Winter, Gary Primich, Los Lobos and a few others. Zito and McKendree keep things moving wildly as Zito sings about the stops from Louisiana to Texas and blazes on his guitar as McKendree goes wild on the ivories. Not for the faint of heart!
Everything here is tight and interesting. The dozen cuts that are recorded here energize the soul and aptly demonstrate Zito and his talents. He’s at the top of his game here. His fans will love this and those unfamiliar with Zito will get a taste of his enormous talent. This is a winner and is highly recommended!