Let’s be real clear here people. The origins of Quarantine Blues are unusual, but they’re not the whole deal. There’s another story here, and that is the album itself.
But let’s get that back story out of the way, for those who don’t know. Mike Zito and his band had just kicked off a European tour when the Covid-19 virus took off, causing international consternation. Flying home to the States with twenty-odd days of work binned, Zito had an idea. They’d create an album from scratch, working with each other remotely and delivering the whole thing within a two-week quarantine period. Fans could get it for free, but could contribute to a GoFundMe campaign if they wanted, to help the band out financially.
|When you get right down to it - let's rock!|
So great, yeah? Hats off to Mike Zito, for turning a problem into an opportunity. But if you’re thinking this sounds like a quick and dirty excuse to throw some cash in a guitar case, listen up. I reckon Quarantine Blues is – Chuck Berry tribute outing aside – the best album Mike Zito has made in several years.
Maybe the self-imposed deadline brought an unusual zest to the whole caper, but what we have here is a goddamn rock’n’roll rekkud, and one that sounds fresh, energised, and vital. Eleven songs, ten of them brand new, and it sounds like Zito the songwriter has been jabbed with a cattle prod – maybe wielded from a social distance by his Gulf Coast Records partner Guy Hales, who collaborated on some of the material.
There’s an air of Tom Petty about several tracks, like the opener ‘Don’t Let The World Get You Down’ fr’instance. Slam - straight into the chorus, all ringing chords over a thumping four-on-the-floor beat, verses dotted with sharp, stinging guitar notes, and a simple, brief solo. On both ‘Hurts My Heart’ – a song re-purposed from his Royal Southern Brotherhood days – and ‘Looking Out This Window’, Zito mixes up acoustic guitar and fuzzy electric to produce jangling riffs, supplemented by see-sawing keyboard strokes from Lewis Stephens on the latter. And the atmospheric ‘Call Of The Wild’ is borne on a weighty, surging riff and chorus, embellished by zinging guitar licks and a solo played out over a tense, jabbing bridge.
You want blues? Well, the title track is a primitive beast, its stomping beat and distorted vocals complemented by slide guitar from Zito that grinds on the riff, and slashes like a razor on the solo. ‘Dark Raven’ may recall earlier Zito slow blues outings like ‘Old Black Graveyard’, but here he lays choral, harmonised guitar work over the midnight-black backing to produce something different, wiry and ear-grabbing. And the mid-paced ‘Walking The Street’ has spiky but bluesy guitar bursts over a slow-slow-quick bass line from Doug Byrkit, washes of organ, and some stuttering, crashing handbrake turns that’ll give you whiplash.
Elsewhere, ‘After The Storm’ has a brooding bass line that evokes ‘Cocaine’, as the setting
|Don't mess with Mike - the missus just locked the bedroom door|
The gutsiest offering though, is ‘Don’t Touch Me’, a collaboration with Tracii Guns, once of L.A. Guns. It blasts off the starting grid with a heavy riff, heads-down-no-nonsense drums’n’bass and a punk-ish shouted chorus, and is strewn with supercharged rock’n’roll guitar licks. But at the other extreme, the closing ‘What It Used To Be’ is primarily down to the strumming and picking of an acoustic guitar, as accompaniment to a melancholy comparison of the current situation to part troubles recounted by Zito’s parents.
“Animal instinct starts kickin’ in,” sings Zito on ‘Call Of The Wild’, and I reckon that’s what’s happened here. Unplanned, Zito was liberated to do whatever came naturally, and in squaring up to the challenge right in front of him, confronting it directly in the lyrics, he and his gang got their collective mojo working big time. Hell, considering that they never got in the same room to do this, even the sound is great. Sure, this album is a document of some strange days. But here’s what you really need to know – when you get right down to it, Quarantine Blues rocks.
Go to Mike Zito's website and you'll find links to download the album, contribute to his GoFundMe campaign, and also a further 'Paying The Blues Forward' campaign to support other artists in need.