Mike Zito

First Class Life

(Ruf Records)

Zito doesn’t go for that racing around, foot on the monitor, extreme face-pulling style of guitar. He just plays out and keeps his cool, channeling soul through his fingertips. Better still he doesn’t shout or groan, he actually sings..and if these comments puzzle you, you should hear a lot of the stuff we receive to review. A new album from Mike is always welcome as he tends to push himself on material and range, rather than repeat the last collection. He mostly writes his own numbers, adding the occasional tune he feels he can take somewhere fresh and in that regard he is in similar territory and mindset to Devon Allman, it must be said. It is so easy to overplay this electric roots music, to put six notes where one would do. Not enough players take notice of Billy Gibbons and his uncanny ability to put the right brief motif in exactly the right place, in a composition. Zito does. And the songs here aren’t as dark as some the titles might suggest…

Mississippi Nights shows off the band well, as Zito’s dancing slide floats over Lewis Stephens’ keyboards, Matthew Johnson’s authoritative drumming and the agile bass of Terry Dry. There’s a touch of Canned Heat about this tune, I venture. Onwards to title cut First Class Life and its loping tempo. Mike sings it straight, an autobiographical job, here. Like many of us, the redemptive power of music can be more reliable than humans. Think how many problems in your life come from other folk deciding to do or not do something ! The phrasing on this seems very Dylan. No doubt Mike will confirm this or put me right.

I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog is a song I have on record by Cher and if memory serves The Nighthawks? It’s a great number that a decent player can dig in to. The steady funk rhythm is insistent and the vocal here is The Business. The progression lends itself to imaginative instrumental forays and the reverbed guitar tone has the correct slice of lonesome. The World We Live In lays back and rolls out its magic, cooing Hammond and all. It evokes This Sporting Life and that world-weary feel we all have sometimes and as relayed here by a family man. Fun time next with labelmate Bernard Allison aboard for Mama Don’t Like No WahWah, referring to a celebrated artist and her demands on guitar tones. A funk workout with fast staggers and lashings of guitar. A touch of that Buddy Guy tongue-in-cheek stuff.

Old Black Graveyard is about a neglected cemetery in Texas and it has a reverent solemn vibe with curls of slide and deep bass. Something about it puts me in mind of Frank Zappa. Dying Day is an upbeat shuffle that reeks of Texas whilst Back Problems sounds like Albert Collins sitting in with Albert King’s band. It’s that snappy. Time For A Change gives the rhythm guys a stomping beat to punch out and a streetwise lyric. For me the best song in the collection and a Steve Stills influence perhaps in its ensemble vocals and relevant words. In contrast Damn Shame cools us all out with a well-judged and keyed blues lyric, a nice dip into roots influences. Events conclude with Trying To Make A Living which rocks the house with maybe a nod to Chuck Berry in his It Wasn’t Me phase – Fresh Berries album. The piano sparkles the guitar hits a jukebox sound…all very lively and a likely future stage favourite.

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks to Ruf Records and Iain at Proper)

Mike Zito's new studio album 'First Class Life' is released on Friday 11th May 2018 on Ruf Records.

In addition, Zito will be touring the UK in April 2018 with labelmates Bernard Allison and Vanja Sky as part of the 'Blues Caravan' 2018 European and UK Tour. 

For tickets, to pre-order the album and for more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2oHthAl

Mike Zito