Mike Zito

Make Blues Not War

(Ruf Records)

A Tom Hambridge musical production is always worth a listen – just ask Buddy Guy or Quinn Sullivan! – and with a talent such as Mike Zito you have virtual guarantee of quality singing and playing. Therefore we are back to the blues record reviewer’s eternal question – is the material any good? Because that factor is what will distinguish the release perhaps from others currently put out in this genre.

The band here includes Hambridge on drums and voice, the supple-playing Tommy MacDonald on bass and Rob McNelley  on additional guitar and the set was recorded at Soundstage in Nashville (beware that Nashville compression !). Kevin McKendree provides some important keyboard contributions.

Highway Mama has a slide-ridden raggedy John Lee Hooker-meets- Papa Lightfoot intro before settling into what sounds like a lost HourGlass cut.  Guitarist Walter Trout also plays on the track. Driven vocal et al and Hammond chords sitting back in the mix;  Wasted Time sounds no less forceful as boogie stomp takes hold. Redbird is more this writer’s thing with its moody start and black-clouds-a-comin’ syrup of delay and cymbal taps. Zito sings well and doesn’t overload the tune too early. There is a hint of Dylan in the vocal delivery, I wonder whether Mike is a follower. I interviewed Garland Jeffreys sip at Abbey Road this week and he couldn’t say enough good things about Bob. The wah’d solo is well-handled, here.

Crazy Legs has a breakneck tempo, a sort of Joe Tex lyric at a pace he would never have used. The bass and drums keep this cooking. It’s downhome chugging and a smoky harp for the album title track. Seems a heartfelt set of words. Make Blues Not War…what sensible person would argue with this?   On The Road uses a choppy beat and some stunning guitar interjections and has the best vocal on the set. Bad News Is Coming is the old Luther Anderson tune. It’s a solemn blues workout with a typical Luther turnaround. The arrangement gets a little overloaded once or twice but the cool guitar playing rescues it. Excellent bass counterpoints, here.

One More Train – there’s gotta be a train song ain’t there ? – features slide over easy-rollin’ piano and good singing. Some harp, too. Girl Back Home and it’s subtle tremelo’d guitar topped with slide reminds me of My Babe in its progression and is a nice laidback almost Taj Mahal moment. Chip Off The Block has – I think – Mike’s lad Zach playing guitar. Sounds a lot of fun and doubtless it was.

Road Dog is an unusual song, high-register weeping guitar leading to a mood that evokes Bobby Bland to your scribe. Probably the best performance from Zito and crew on this record and best guitar solo, lots of space and soul ; Route 90 is from Clarence Garlow and rocks out like a jukebox favourite. Great way to end the collection.

Good players, individual singing, ace production and enough good compositions to justify picking the disc up.

Pete Sargeant

(Many thanks to Ruf Records for help with this review)


(Feature Image Credit: Christopher Durst)

Mike Zito's new studio album 'Make Blues Not War' is out now on Ruf Records.

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2oHthAl

Mike Zito