Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mike Zito & The Wheel - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 1 November 2015


It’s Sunday, it’s 9pm, and it’s time to shake, rattle and roll.  A blast of slide guitar from Mike Zito heralds the title track of his band’s new album, Keep Coming Back.  It’s an infectious, house-is-rockin’ set opener, driven along by a shuffling rhythm from drummer Rob Lee underpinning Zito’s guitar, and lays down a marker for what follows.  The familiar ‘Don’t Break A Leg’ is next up, a cheeky portrayal of a dumb-ass guy with a tin ear when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex.  By the time The Wheel are done, it's also something akin to a jazz-funk-blues meltdown.  And this, bear in mind, is just the second song.
Mike Zito & The Wheel - three or more chords and nothing but the truth
The new album may not be out for another few days, but several tracks from it get an airing.  'Chin Up' brings some driving boogie into the mix, with its exhortations to optimism in the face of adversity, while 'Nothing But The Truth' is Stonesy from its first snare shot, with a riff that Keef would surely delight in.  And just to up the rock'n'rollin' ante, there's also a cover of Bob Seger's 'Get Out Of Denver' - a son of 'Johnny B. Goode' if ever there was one, on which Zito is even moved to offer a brief duck walk.
There are plenty of favourites from the back catalogue too, some of them demonstrating he value of Jimmy Carpenter's sax playing, as with the neat guitar and sax duet on 'Gone To Texas', and Carpenter's squalling solo on the laid back 'Subtraction Blues', which develops into something of a Hendrixy jam.  Carpenter also gets to step out front with lead vocals on his own catchy and light-hearted paean to the female form, 'Walk Away', on which Zito grins his way through some Shadows-style moves with bassist Scot Sutherland.  The latter, as Zito acknowledges, is the better dancer - as well as being just about the coolest looking dude this side of Miami Steve Van Zandt.
More reflective moments are offered by some cornerstones of their repertoire.  There's the dark tale of Southern history that is 'Pearl River', for example, on which Zito delivers a piercing solo.  And there's 'Judgement Day', on which he reverts to slide with a tone that conjures up echoes of Ritchie Blackmore, of all people.
Throughout all of this the engine room of Lee on drums and Sutherland on bass are the dog's bollocks.  These guys bring both solidity and inventiveness to the party, not just on the swinging, funky stuff, but also on the slow blues of '39 Days', on which Zito complements the cousin-of-'Mistreated' riff with an impassioned solo.
The night ends with another cover from the new album, of John Fogerty's 'Bootleg', into which they insert a blast or two of 'Born In The Bayou' for good measure.  It's an apt marker for where Mike Zito & The Wheel are right now, right in the cross hairs of vibrant blues and country-inflected rock'n'roll. Catch 'em if you can.
Supporting duo Mud In Your Ear take us on a semi-acoustic historical journey through blues terrain of the 30s to 50s.  Richard O'Donnell is the kind of young guy who just makes me sick, showing off his ability with not just slide guitar, but also boogie woogie piano and a satisfying blues holler. He and his older compadre Allan Jones also sport a selection of guitars that even makes Mike Zito envious.  Highlights include Elmore James' 'Sunnyland Train', with gritty slide from O'Donnell on a Silvertone, while Jones delivers sprightly acoustic lead on a Memphis Minnie country blues, and suitably careworn vocals on Frank Stokes' 'Downtown Blues'.  All in all an intriguing tour of some lesser known tunes.

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