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Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia: Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?

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It was back in 1968 that the Bonzo Dog Band tendered the immortal question in this article's title, but it remains an interrogatory relevant to our times. In the sizable community devoted to blues music around the world, passion for music too often leads to posing by too many practitioners of the genre. Not so with Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia: in building their respective careers of some renown, both have proven they can deliver song and musicianship without undue affectation. And they continue to do so with as much authority as panache on I Got Love and Blues From The Southside: aided and abetted in their efforts by collaborators whose depth of engagement with the music equals their own,the two bandleaders' collective efforts lends authenticity and credibility to legitimate interpretation(s) of contemporary blues.

Albert Castiglia
I Got Love
Gulf Coast Records
2022

Albert Castiglia's follow-up to his Masterpiece (Gulf Coast Records, 2019) is hardly less autobiographical. In fact, "Sanctuary" and "Depression Blues' are just two numbers here in which the veteran guitarist/songwriter provides some accounts of his prior two COVID-blemished years. And his tellings of those travails is nothing if not cathartic, at least from the searing sounds of "I Got Love." This one-time accompanist to icon of the blues Junior Wells keeps the trio he leads constantly on its toes, all the better to traverse the slightly-syncopated changes of "Don't Pray With The Devil:" bassist Justine Tompkins and drummer Ephraim Lowell dig deep into the rhythm, so that there's plenty of room for Lewis Stephens' Hammond B3 and piano. In his singing, Castiglia displays an abandon comparable to that in his electric guitar playing—he's never at a loss for ideas or depth of feeling—and he is utterly without self-consciousness in his general approach to his music. Even if this almost exclusively up-tempo record is lacking somewhat in dynamics—on the shuffle of "Long Haul Daddy" the musicians move at a faster pace than on the heated twelve-bar closer "Take Your Name Out Of Your Mouth"— this Miami-raised musician nevertheless continues to ratify his modern personalization of the genre.

Mike Zito
Blues From The Southside
Gulf Coast Records
2022

A contemporary bluesman of no small repute, Mike Zito is also co-founder of Gulf Coast Records, the imprimatur on which this live double-CD appears. Yet the division of labor hasn't apparently affected guitarist/songwriter/bandleader's prolific nature: he's released a new studio album each of the last four years and on this concert set, he manages to rise above the prosaic and/or derivative through most of this one-hundred plus minutes. Oddly, covers of famous numbers like Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood," Jimi Hendrix' "Voodoo Chile" and Chuck Berry's immortal "Johnny B. Goode" are somewhat of an exception to that rule, despite the man's best intentions (and the presence of labelmates Dave Kalz and Tony Campanella plus veteran guitar wizard Eric Gales): Zito sounds more true to life, if not exactly eloquent, on "Mississippi Nights and "Life Is Hard." Not coincidentally, on that pair of cuts, the clear separation of recorded sound is most striking: the audio quality mitigates to a great degree the lack of imagination in some of the Blues Music Award-winner's original material ("The Road Never Ends"). This title-song is most appropriately designated, however, as its ominous mood matches its unbridled passion.

Tracks and Personnel

I Got Love

Tracks: I Got Love; Don't Pray with the Devil; Burning Bridges; Sanctuary; Double Down; Long Haul Daddy; Wrong With You?; Depression Blues; Freedomland; You Don't Know Hell; Take My Name Out Of Your Mouth

Personnel: Albert Castiglia: guitar, vocals: Lewis Stephens: Hammond B3 organ, piano; Justine Tompkins: bass, vocals; Ephraim Lowell: drums, vocals.

Blues From The Southside

Tracks: Intro; Mississippi Nights; First Class Life; Blues For The Southside; Texas Flood; Mike Speaks; Hell On Me; Back Problems; Make Blues Not War; Highway Mama; Love Her With A Feeling; Wasted Time; Voodoo Chile; Dying Day; Life Is Hard; The Road Never Ends; Johnny B. Goode.

Personnel: Mike Zito: guitar,vocals; Tony Campanella: guitar; Dave Kalz: guitar; Eric Gales: guitar; Lewis Stephens: piano, organ; Doug Byrkit: vocals, bass, Matthew Johnson: vocals, drums.

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