Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mike Zito ~ Make Blues Not War

Yes, once again I’m late to the party. I’ve followed Mike Zito’s work for a number of years, but haven’t been able to write a review of any despite my best efforts. I even put this Ruf Records releases, Make Bues Not War, on my 2016 Honor Roll as one of the best of the year, and featured it on an episode of Time For The Blues.
Still, I never got around to reviewing it.
That’s on me. I had the album in my “to be reviewed” box along with maybe another 150 CDs and for some reason it kept moving backwards instead of forward. If I believed a CD could moonwalk, that’s what I would think happened to this one.
Fortunately, as I was weeding out some other titles, this one popped up and it reminded me that I hadn’t written anything about his very cool album. Let me indulge myself and commit a few thoughts to paper about it.
Yeah, I said “paper.” Get over it…
Zito is an amazing guitarist. In my opinion, he’s one of the best. He manages to make his instrument sing and cry, as well as lay down rhythms and runs that will leave you breathless in amazement. I would stack him up against just about anyone.
He also writes good songs. On this album, he co-wrote five of the twelve songs. He’s a very solid performer and here he’s chosen to work with Tom Hambridge as his drummer, producer, and the writer of the majority of songs on the album. I just wrote about Hambridge’s contributions on Quinn Sullivan’s recent album, but I could just as easily have picked out a couple of dozen other names in blues, country, and rock and said the same thing.
This is especially interesting to me as Zito is a very strong producer himself. In fact, he produced the upcoming album by Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos, one of my favorite bands, and from what I’ve heard from that album, it’s going to be amazing.
Aside from Zito on guitars and vocals, and Hambridge on drums, other musicians include Tommy MacDonald on bass; and Rob McNelley on guitar. Guest musicians include Walter Trout on guitar for Highway Mama; Kevin McKendree on B3 organ, Wurlitzer piano, piano, and clavinet; Jason Ricci on harp for two songs; and Zach Zito on guitar for one song.  
Zito starts things off with the swamp flavored Highway Mama. His guitar is like a weapon in his hands, assaulting the listener with staccato bursts and soaring runs. This is deep into blues territory, no messing around on this one. Zito and Company know that they want their music to explode, and this one will definitely catch you and pull you in. Great opening.
He follows up with the rollicking Wasted Time. This is a party song from the first note and a lot of fun to listen to. Zito co-wrote this number with Hambridge and Richard Fleming and the three blend seamlessly. Zito’s guitar takes a solid run, and the lyrics are good. This one should easily get some air play, and since I’m behind the curve, it probably did.
Redbird begins with some unusual music that sounds a little out of place on a hard driving blues album. It’s almost avant-garde jazz, but quickly settles in to a funky groove. Tommy MacDonald’s bass gets a real workout laying down the back beat. Hambridge works his drums overtime to create the dark sound of this song. Very cool.
He follows up with the raucous Crazy Legs. With a title like that, you weren’t expecting a tender love ballad, were you? They lyrics are wicked and the song is a lot of fun. You can tell everyone is having a great time on this number, and when you listen to it, just try not to dance. Bet you can’t.
In the 1960’s, the expression was “Make Love Not War.” Zito and Company, upgrade the sentiment for the 21st Century with Make Blues Not War. The title track takes a throwback approach with an old-school feel. Jason Ricci adds a lot of flavor with his harp playing and I love the song. It has a free flowing anything goes attitude that would have been right at home in the ‘60’s, but the sentiments expressed are especially suited for those great blues parties.
On The Road is one of the most evocative numbers on the album. The lyrics are so cool, the music is tight, and Zito beautifully mixes vocals and guitar licks. Americans are a mobile group, we’re always on the road, whether it’s nearby or cross country, it’s in our collective DNA. This song should be required listening for anyone getting into a car and driving more than 20 miles. This is some funky blues!
Time to get serious with Luther Allison’s Bad News Is Coming. McKendree holds chords down on the organ, giving it a gospel sound, and the guitar soars carrying the singers emotional pain all the way to heaven. This is a great number that should satisfy every blues lover around. Damn, so good.
Zito follows up with the swampy One More Train. Can’t get much more bluesy than a good train song, and once again Ricci is along for the ride with his harp. It’s a crunchy number with a real country blues feel to it. Solid number and the piano and harp mix beautifully with Zito’s guitar work.
Speaking of swampy, the opening of Girl Back Home paints such a complete picture that you can see dust motes dancing in a sunbeam. You can feel the heat rising off of a dirt road and you know, just know, that you are in the country. The real country. It’s a sweet blues tune and full of emotion. Love it.
Chip Off The Block is a swinging number that mixes blues with a little early rock and roll to create a wild honkytonk experience. If you don’t believe that Zito’s one of the best guitarists working today after this album, well, there’s little hope for you. He’s played several different styles and created a very cool sound. I really like this song a lot.
Zito starts out slowly on Road Dog. He mixes the tempos nicely and gives the album different sounds with just about each song. This one is lonely and instills a sense of longing for a place one can call his or her own. The siren song of the highway pulls us in further and further, but it creates pain as we are always leaving the ones we love. I don’t know about you, but my heart aches a little listening to the song.
He brings the album to a close with Route 90, one helluva rocking number that mixes his blues with some down home New Orleans rhythms. All it needs is an accordion and a rubboard and this would be pure zydeco. It’s a song with a ton of spirit and a great way to end things on a high note.
If you stuck around this long, I should probably send you a prize. Since I don’t have that kind of budget, consider your prize to be telling you about how great Make Blues Not War is, and I suggest you add it to your collection as soon as you possibly can.
The album has been out for a little while so you shouldn’t have any trouble hunting it down at the usual places. You can find it in record stores, or online, or you can check out Zito’s website at and you can get it there (along with previous releases) and find out what else he’s been up to. Or getting ready to be up to.

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