Mike Zito And Friends

2019

Joe Bonamassa ROYAL TEA.jpg

Now here’s a strange one… Mike Zito is a fine Blues/Rock guitarist who first came to the notice of many of us as one of the twin guitars (with Devon Allman) in the first iteration of the Royal Southern Brotherhood. He has visited the UK’s smaller venues many times since, sometimes in the company of other axe slingers, such as Samantha Fish and Bernard Allison. This, however, as the title suggests, is more of a Rock ‘n’ Roll record and a perfectly fine one too, but perhaps allowing the leader less room to shine as a guitarist.

While not seeking to undervalue the link that Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley drew between Blues and Rock, I assumed that the idea must have been to mark Chuck’s centenary; apparently not, though, as he was born in 1926. Perhaps Ruf Records was just keen to piggy-back on to Provogue’s idea of recording many of its guitarists as guests on each others’ albums? Indeed, several of Provogue’s finest (e.g. Bonamassa, Trout, Landreth, Ford & Gales) pop up here too.

First up, however, is Chuck’s grandson, followed by another less heralded name in Joanna Connor, whose slide work sounds well worthy of further investigation. The pace is ramped up by the arrival of Walter Trout, who probably couldn’t play a half hearted solo if he tried! Trout & Zito’s romp through ‘Johnny B. Goode’ is a tough act to follow, so it was probably a wise decision to schedule Bonamassa’s contribution next; his lengthy solo on ‘Wee Wee Hours’ is the Bluesiest of the entire album (just typing that makes me want to listen to it again!).

Anders Osborne makes a tasteful contribution to ‘Memphis’, but I was keen to get to Ryan Perry (who, with his siblings, is part of the Homemade Jamz Blues Band) and Jeremiah Johnson, as both will be in the UK next spring as part of Ruf’s Blues Caravan 2020; based on this outing and his own ‘Straitjacket’ album, Johnson has a definite edge for me. In between those two tracks, Robben Ford and Eric Gales run true to form; Ford tasteful, if not particularly memorable and Gales with technique to burn, but at the expense of the Blues feeling which was more evident in his earlier albums.

Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars contributes much to ‘Too Much Monkey Business’, before a laid back Sonny Landreth slide solo on ‘Havana Moon’ sounds as much like Hawaii as it does Cuba, at least to these ears. Tinsley Ellis, whose series of albums on Alligator are well worth seeking out, is perhaps the pick of the remaining guests, although Ally Venable solo’s well enough on ‘School Days’ to suggest that people may pay more attention to her playing than to the length of her skirts, something which, sadly, hasn’t always been true of Ruf’s female guitarists.

Tommy Castro is stylistically well suited to ‘Reelin’ And Rockin’, which was re-released in the UK in 1972 as a follow up to the awful ‘My Ding A Ling’. Sadly that novelty song closes out the album and this version, by Kid Andersen, is no better than the original! A strange choice to include it instead of ‘Nadine’ or ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, for example.

An in-depth track by track analysis seems superfluous; indeed, most tracks are so well known that perhaps therein lies the problem, i.e. it’s too hard for any but the very best (and here that’s Messrs. Trout and Bonamassa) to put a personal stamp on them.

So, probably a solid 3-star album which might even make some of you want to bust a dance move or two around your coffee tables, but less likely to get repeated listens by fans of Zito the Blues guitarist.

St. Louis Blues (with Charlie Berry III); Rock And Roll Music (Joanna Connor); Johnny B. Goode (Walter Trout); Wee Wee Hours (Joe Bonamassa); Memphis (Anders Osborne); I Want To Be Your Driver (Ryan Perry); You Never Can Tell (Robben Ford); Back In The USA (Eric Gales); No Particular Place To Go (Jeremiah Johnson); Too Much Monkey Business (Luther Dickinson); Havana Moon (Sonny Landreth); Promised Land (Tinsley Ellis); Down Bound Train (Alex Skolnick); Maybellene (Richard Fortus); School Days (Ally Venable); Brown Eyed Handsome Man (Kirk Fletcher & Josh Smith); Reelin’ And Rockin’ (Tommy Castro); Let It Rock (Jimmy Vivino); Thirty Days (Albert Castiglia); My Ding A Ling (Kid Andersen).

Gary Smith