There’s a bit of an old pals’ act going on here, as Mike Zito produces the debut album from fellow St. Louis bluesman Tony Campanella, released by Zito’s own Gulf Coast Records. It’s a debut that’s been a long time coming, given that Campanella has been paying his dues for 25 years, but happily the end result is up to snuff.
It’s very much a guitar-driven affair, but Campanella also has a more than decent, flexible voice, and through a selection of covers, Campanella originals, and a few contributions from Zito and fellow label boss Guy Hale, there’s plenty of variety on offer.
Personal favourites for me are the swinging-est outings on the album, such as Sonny Boy
|Tony Campanella - shake that tush, folks.|
There are shades of Gary Moore in the heavy blues of the opening ‘Taking It To The Street’, and the slowie ‘One Foot In The Blues’, though I’d wager that Stevie Ray Vaughan is a likelier influence. Whatever, the title track comes with a pneumatic drill of a riff, and licks sprayed around liberally, while ‘One Foot In The Blues’ has an alluring melody, and in its early stages patient soloing that’s worthy of applause, before it revs up into a big showcase. At which point TC gets a bit too attached to one particular high-speed descending flurry around the scale, and plays around with it several times with minimal variation, and to no great effect. As Albert King is reputed to have said to Gary Moore, “You know what? Play every other lick.” Or words to that effect.
The closing ‘Those Are The Times’ is a more complete slow blues, sensitive and warm in its ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ stylings, and Eddie Vinson’s ‘Mr Cleanhead’ is a funny piece of self-deprecation on the part of the balding Campanella, with a relaxed ‘Catfish Blues’ air about it. ‘Texas Chainsaw’, meanwhile, is a brooding number that could be an alternative version of ‘Old Black Graveyard’, from Zito’s own most recent album First Class Life, and comes similarly drenched in his slide guitar as a counterpoint to Campanella’s soloing. Quite why a song about finally finding a place that finally offers a sense of identity and validation should be given such a macabre setting, I’m not sure, but it still passes muster.
There’s more besides, but the main thing is that Taking It To The Street is a likeable affair, on which Zito does a good job of bringing out Tony Campanella’s personality, and not just as a guitarist. His motor is indeed running, and on his debut album he shows he can go through the gears.