Very few people ever have a year like the one blues artist Albert Castiglia has had. Out of the blue he finds out that he has a grown daughter that he’s never known, has her completely accepted into his and his family’s life, discovers that not only is he a father – but a grandfather, and completes an album, Masterpiece, that led to him leaving his long time label to start fresh. Sounds like a lifetime movie waiting to happen.
If it does, let me be among the first to tell you, it will have a killer soundtrack.
Teaming up with long-time friend and producer Mike Zito on Zito’s new Gulf Coast Records, the two went into the studio together and are the only two musicians on the album. Castiglia handled electric and acoustic guitars, vocals and bass while Zito also played electric and acoustic guitars along with bass, drums, and keyboards.
The result is a very tight sound and Castiglia’s lyrics are some of the most mature that I have ever heard him deliver. There are two songs co-written by Zito and Castiglia as well as two covers, the rest are all Castiglia and he’s exploring a lot of new emotional territory.
Castiglia starts off the album with the pounding anthem, Bring On The Rain, which he co-wrote with Mike Zito. This is the round up of the past year that he has faced, feeling empty but not knowing why, discovering the person who fills that whole, and being prepared to take on whatever comes his way. With both Castiglia and Zito onboard, this is a guitar players dream team-up. It’s very personal and somehow makes Castiglia vulnerable and invincible at the same time.
He follows up with I Tried To Tell Ya, and more shredding guitars. The music adds to the frenzy and confusion in the lyrics. It’s only the second song in, and already it’s the most revelatory album of Castiglia’s career. He’s teamed with Zito before and they bring out the best in each other. I would truly have loved to be a fly on the wall watching these two give birth to the album.
The duo of Castiglia and Zito slow things down a smidge and utilize a funky backtrack on Heavy. As you might expect from the title, it’s a song that deals with some powerful subjects, the singer’s pain is palpable and you can feel it in every note. This one might not get much airplay, but it will haunt you for a long time after you listen to it. Very moody and evocative.
Speaking of heavy, the next number, Keep On Swinging, comes in with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The backbeat is pounding and while there are some soaring guitar riffs, what stands out is the pure emotion of the song. It sort of reminds me of the music John Lennon was making while going through scream therapy and trying to exorcise the pain. But when you listen to the lyrics, just remember you’ve got to keep on swinging…
Next up is the title track, Masterpiece, it’s got a different, very sweet approach. You can feel the shadows have lifted and the sun is shining through. Again, Castiglia is running on pure emotion, and it’s the first time on this album that you feel he’s found peace. I can only imagine what he’s gone through, but I can feel his happiness in every line, and I love that he’s come to this place in his life.
After that magical interlude, the real world once again intrudes with Thoughts And Prayers. The fact that we’ve heard so many stories of nutjobs taking guns into schools and other crowded places and opening fire that we’re almost immune to the shock is a horrible comment on our present society. Castiglia lives in one of the states that has had one such tragedy and he puts his anger into this song.
He follows up with a cover of Johnny Winter’s Too Much Seconal. Another emotional song dealing with the cruel absurdities of the current state of society. Castiglia uses a filter on his vocals that distorts his voice; making them sound slurred and not easily understood. It plays very well with the distortion in the guitars and the pounding of the drums. Very cool song. I’ve never asked Castiglia (or Zito for that matter) how much of an influence Johnny Winter is on their playing, but this homage is very well done.
Next up is another Zito/Castiglia collaboration, Catch My Breath, and I can hear the train rhythm that Zito has utilized in a few other songs. It’s a driving number and it’s difficult to actually catch your breath while listening to it. For blues rockers, this is a great tune.
Things slow down a bit with Red Tide Blues. This is a greasy tune that talks about one of the least attractive features of Florida. After major storms, a lot of microorganisms rise to the surface of the ocean and choke off sea life and humans that might be ignorant enough to go swimming, or just stand downwind of it. It’s not to be confused with the Crimson Tide, which is the nickname for the University of Alabama. Programmers note, there is a non-FCC Approved word in the song.
After that jarring song, Castiglia follows up with the slow quiet number Love Will Win The War. It’s a gentle number about horrible subjects, but ultimately claims that love will triumph over hate. All I can say is from your lips to God’s ears my friend. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of fresh atrocities every day. I hope this prayer works, but think it only will when we all find ways to make it better.
Castiglia ends the album with a cover of Muddy Waters’ I Wanna Go Home. Again, he utilizes some distortion to great effect. It actually gives me the feel of the original cut, and between the lyrics and the emotion, it’s a good way to end the album.
Let’s agree on something, Albert Castiglia is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most blues purists who want delta style blues delivered in an AAB format are probably not going to flock to this album or his shows. For those who like their blues a little more daring and more edgy with rock influences will love his work.
The album is called Masterpiece, not Mediocrepiece, for a reason. This is some of Castiglia’s most personal music to date. It’s brave, as so many artists don’t want to open up their personal lives on every song, but on this one, Castiglia has risen to the challenge.
Check out his website here, to find out more information on Castiglia, Masterpiece, and where he’s touring. I’m looking forward to catching him live in June and I encourage you to do the same.