Monday, August 2, 2021

Mike Zito - Resurrection

For me, when Mike Zito is on his game, what really makes him stand out from the herd is his songwriting.  And so it is with the best moments on his latest album Resurrection.  When he’s in the mood, Zito stretches out beyond the confines of straight-ahead blues into wider rock’n’roll terrain.
Such is the case on the opening track ‘I’ll Make Love to You’, with which I’m reminded, not for the first time with Mr Z, of Tom Petty.  Spangly acoustic guitar is juxtaposed with cello-like slide
Mike Zito - "Top o' the world, Ma!"
over a swaying rhythm, advertising Zito’s way with a good tune and arrangement, and adding in a snappy bridge, a slide solo with more of that distinctive woozy tone, and a sax solo that adds an extra dimension.
A couple of tentpole tracks in the middle of the album offer different variations.  ‘Presence Of The Lord’ contemplates the place of faith in Zito’s ongoing recovery from addiction, setting forth with an anthemic guitar line and a gutsy undertow from the drums and bass.  As it develops there’s a vibe that puts me in mind, for some less than obvious reason, of Derek & The Dominoes, en route to an ascending riff that provides the foundation for a wailing guitar solo before it stumbles to a close.  The following ‘When It Rains’ is a meditation on hopeless circumstances, grounded in stomping kick drum and metronomic bass, overlaid with a tense guitar line and brooding sax.  It’s an atmospheric outing, patiently delivered like an approaching thundercloud that refuses to break, and Zito gives it an extra twist with squeaking slide guitar that hints at another instrument altogether – violin in some gypsy jazz band, perhaps.
There’s more drama in ‘Damned If I Do’, a slowie about a blighted relationship that’s romantic and emotional, with horns flitting in and out and some impressive guitar work.  But while that may be downbeat, closing track ‘Resurrection’ is a ‘Purple Rain’-infused ballad that’s a hymn to the importance of loving relationships, with all their ups and downs, delivered with conviction and a heartfelt vocal.
But if these are the el serioso moments, there’s plenty of fun to be found elsewhere.  ‘Dreaming Of You’ may be a bit slight, in its chorus for example, but there’s still plenty to enjoy as echoes of Springsteen’s ‘Spirits In The Night’ drift through the chord progression on the verses, and Zito adds a succession of fuzzy, jangly guitar licks.  ‘In My Blood’ relaxes into a laid back, Latin-tinged groove, with bobbing bass and sprinkles of restrained sweet-toned guitar, plus some nicely arranged female backing vocals, to create something simple but gorgeous.  And ‘You Don’t Have Me’ is lightweight fun with an air of Springsteen nicking something from the Sixties, aided and abetted by the warmth of some Fender Rhodes piano.
I could live without the penultimate track ‘Evil’, which comes across like an everyday funk blues workout that doesn’t add much to the equation – there’d be an elegant sufficiency to the album without it.  And now and then I’m inclined to think Zito overdoes the emphasis on slide guitar, however good he is at it.  But Resurrection is still typically disarming Mike Zito fare, with some peak moments worthy of particular attention - not as urgent as last year’s Quarantine Blues perhaps, or as outstanding as Keep Coming Back or some earlier albums, but quality work nonetheless from one of the cornerstones of current day blues-infused rock’n’roll.

Resurrection is out now on Gulf Coast Records.

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