Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Albert Castiglia - Wild And Free

This is one of those nervously-licking-your-lips-in-anticipation releases. See, Albert Castiglia’s Masterpiece was my favourite album of 2019 – and to be honest it’s a mystery if you haven’t come across me shouting that from the rooftops already.  It was a juggernaut of an album, but with subtleties that brought its weight into sharp relief.
So I’ve been asking myself, would Albert – could he – live up to that heady mix with this live recording?  Or would he, perhaps, let rip with percussive power and guitar mayhem to the point that after 75 minutes I’d have to lie down in a darkened room for a good long spell?
Well, the good news is that Castiglia just about gets away with it.  Sure, he shoves the needle into the red a lot, and maybe overextends the soloing here and there.  But Wild And Free still includes enough moments of calm, relatively speaking, to let the music breathe – and just as importantly to give the listener a breather.
And in Albert's case, that's LOUD!

Four tracks in, ‘Heavy’ is a key moment of reassurance on this point, and a highlight to boot.  With its climbing, chiming riff, it cools things off after three helter-skelter tracks, creating a more solemn, bluesy setting for the reflective lyric, and Castiglia’s first solo is a well-paced, twisting and turning effort.  Then Lewis Stephens shifts from piano to B3, gradually building to waves of organ as the foundation for the closing segment of a song that grips the attention for nearly ten minutes.
By that time we’ve had the blistering opening of ‘Let The Big Dog Eat’, which kicks off with solid drums, throbbing bass, surging organ and fiery, scattergun guitar licks en route to a supercharged riff.  Then there’s ‘Hoodoo On Me’, which manages to match a dentist-drill riff to a swinging rhythm set by Justine Tompkins’ bass and Ephraim Lowell’s drums, as a precursor to some full steam ahead soloing from Castiglia, all punctuated by a knockout free-falling turnaround.  And ‘I Been Up All Night’ continues in the same vein with a screaming wah-wah intro, before easing back a tad with some relaxed, bopping bass and piano chording – though if that introduces some dynamics, there’s still room for plenty full-tilt guitar work.
The balance of throttle and brake continues with ‘Get Your Ass In The Van’ and ‘Searching The Desert For The Blues’.  The former is a pumped-up blues shuffle, with boogie-woogie piano complementing a slide guitar frenzy, and a quaking slide solo.  But the latter – not the Blind Willie McTell song of the same title, by the way, but from the pen of Floridian Graham Wood Drout – is at once a steadier but looser affair, with pulsing bass and some funky rhythm guitar.
By the same token ‘Keep On Swinging’, all pummelling riff offset by darts of piano, and a solid groove given extra curves by Tompkins’ bass, gives way to a cool opening on Johnny Winters’ ‘Too Much Seconal’ – well, as cool as they ever get.  Bizarrely, I actually reckon Castiglia’s screaming, pace-changing solo on the former is too low in the mix – if the guy’s going to go gonzo then surely he should be up front and centre – and it’s a flaw that occurs once or twice elsewhere.  Whatever, John Ginty and Mike Zito are both guests on ‘Seconal’, Ginty adding a strong, swinging organ solo while Zito gets properly bluesy but for me then getting somewhat carried away.
Down the stretch there’s swinging’n’stabbing R’n’B in the form of Paul Butterfield’s ‘Lovin’Cup’, with flashes and starbursts of guitar punctuating the vocal delivery; the pounding, in-your-face ‘I Tried To Tell Ya’, with its forceful, ringing riff; and then Freddie King’s instrumental ‘Boogie Funk’ does exactly what it says on the tin, packing a high tempo chugging riff and lots of back and forth, tension and release guitar work.  It goes on a bit, but I could imagine that on the night at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton it was simply the catalyst for a mass freakout. 
Wild And Free may not be a perfect live album, but it’s sure as hell well-titled.  Go find a white flag people, and surrender to the blues power of Albert Castiglia and his band!

Wild And Free is released by Gulf Coast Records on 3 April 2020.

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