Okay folks, here’s how I imagine the conversation went when Albert Castiglia arrived at the studio and introduced this bunch of songs to his producer Mike Zito.
“No fucking frills, right?”
“Who else we gonna get play on it?”
“Nobody. We’ll do this fucker ourselves. You and me.”
“Cool. Let's go.”
So here we have the pair of them weighing in with electric, acoustic and bass guitars, while Castiglia takes care of the vocals, and Zito also takes responsibility for – would you believe? - drums and keyboards. It sounds like it was recorded on some clapped-out analogue recording equipment that someone rescued from the dump.
And it is flat-out, bone-shakingly magnificent.
|"You looking' at me? Well, they're ain't nobody else here."|
Oh sure, it starts out sounding like a particularly juicy T-Bone steak of electric blues, with ‘Bring On The Rain’ all urgent and ready to rock, and guitar licks elbowing their way in all around Castiglia’s growling voice. But believe me, they’re just lulling you into a false sense of security.
The shuffling primal stomp and booming bass line of ‘I Tried To Tell You’ build foundations of granite for Castiglia’s screw-you vocals and a scrabbling, discordant solo, before it sulks its way to an abrupt ending. And that’s just by way of readying you for the further acts of shock and awe coming your way. Like ‘Keep On Swinging’ fr’instance, with its bludgeoning riff over rock steady, reverberating bass and drums, a spell of raking guitar harmonies, and a dogfight of traded guitar licks, while Castiglia insists “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” Or ‘Thoughts And Prayers’, on which more bang-crash drums and sledgehammer bass, allied to a lurching, scratchy guitar riff, provide the basis for an acid discourse from Castiglia about “thoughts and prayers and a loaded gun”, and “children in the firing line.” Or ‘Catch My Breath’, which welds a Skynyrd-like melody to a chugging, clanking rhythm.
The two covers provide reinforcements. Johnny Winter’s ‘Too Much Seconal’ feels like drinking the hair of the dog the morning after the night before, with fuzzy, screeching guitar and some basic blues piano-bashing from Zito, while Castiglia grabs the most ancient microphone available for his vocals, and the drums sound like they were recorded out in the garden shed. I’m sure Johnny would be proud. As he would also be of their take on Muddy Waters’ ‘I Wanna Go Home’, which is all jagged, jangling R’n’B basics, with a razor-wire guitar solo - Hard Again indeed.
Castiglia does provide some relief from the scruff-of-the-neck approach though. The title track is an awestruck but not maudlin reflection on his first discovering he had a daughter, the masterpiece of the title, 30 years after her birth – a simple affair of acoustic strumming and slide remarks, over boom-tap drums. ‘Heavy’ is a social commentary slow blues framed around a rippling, rising guitar line and basic, beats-like drums. And best of all there’s ‘Love Will Win The War’, a meditation on the horror of mass shootings in churches, synagogues, schools and – well, you get the idea – set to warmly twangin’an’twinklin’ ‘Wild Horses’-like guitar work.
Castiglia and Zito deserve a lead-heavy slab of acclaim for this album. Masterpiece is raw and primitive, down to earth and defiant, emotional and honest. And it is not to be denied. Crank it up to 11, and tell me if I’m wrong.
Masterpiece is out now on Gulf Coast Records.