Friday, March 10, 2023

Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia - Blood Brothers

It’s no big secret that I think Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia have, individually, done some great stuff in recent years.  In particular, your honours, I would like to enter into evidence Castiglia’s 2019 album Masterpiece, which was in fact produced by Zito, and on which the two of them played all the instruments to terrific effect.  So it’s easy to see how the Blood Brothers album has come about – these two guys are mucho simpatico.
But if Masterpiece seemed like a brilliant DIY affair, the pair have gone in the opposite direction for this collaborative effort, wheeling in the big name production partnership du jour of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, plus a bundle of other musicians to contribute as necessary.  And the results are – well, rather good.
Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia - lean on me, brother
Pic by Norma Touchette
The best moments here are when they get expansive.  The Zito tune ‘In My Soul’ starts off with acoustic strumming and an aching vocal from Zito himself, gets elevated by some soaring backing vocals from Jade Macrae and Danielle DeAndrea, and then kicks into a higher gear with a staccato electric riff.  The light and shade has a vibe similar to Whitesnake’s ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’, but more American – more Southern perhaps.  Castiglia’s ‘A Thousand Heartaches’ also leans on acoustic guitar, and subdued organ, to develop an atmosphere of love and melancholy, decorated by a sparkling little turnaround on its way to a lyrical Bonamassa solo, and the spare but perfect lines:  “All I wanna do is see you happy / That’s all I ever want for you / Although we ain’t together / Doesn’t mean that it’s not true”.  It’s not a complicated song, but it’s a classy one.
The slow blues ‘You’re Gonna Burn’, which interleaves a patient Castiglia vocal and fluttering guitar licks, builds a sense of bitter relationship failure, with stabbing chords heightening the effect of Albert’s dynamic guitar solo.  And if Zito’s mid-paced ‘No Good Woman’ has a touch of swagger to its riff, and some spikiness in the pair’s combined lead work, it stills conveys an air of resignation summed up by the line “I’ll be happy when you let the back door slam”.
Elsewhere the mood is largely more upbeat, as on the infectious boogie of opener ‘Hey Sweet Mama’, embellished by some tootling rock'n'roll piano from Lewis Stephens.  But it’s noticeable that six of the 12 tracks are written by others, which ain’t what I expected, and it feels like a missed opportunity to pool their writing talents. So while Tinsley Ellis’s ‘Tooth And Nail’, with its twisted around ‘Green Onions’ riff, is given a suitably tough and sassy Castiglia vocal, and has some scraping Zito slide en route to a duelling guitar outro, I reckon AC himself could have produced something more potent.  Similarly, while John Hiatt’s ‘My Business’ leans towards the tongue-in-cheek stuff that Zito does so well – like ‘Don’t Break A Leg’ for example – it’s lacking a bit of zip, a bit of spark, a bit of je ne sais quoi as they rarely say in these parts.
In another mode, ‘Hill Country Jam’ is an instrumental penned by Zito and Josh Smith, and a well executed, breezy affair it is too – but I’d prefer these guys to be sticking a shot of their own brand rock’n’roll in my ear.  Still, ‘One Step Ahead Of The Blues’ makes for a laid back, thoughtful finish, as the two of them share the work on a tale of resolve and stoicism.
Fans of Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia will like this.  Hell, I like this.  I just have the nagging feeling that this album could have been so much bigger, so much bolder – a fusion of Zito and Castiglia to blow the bloody doors off.  Hopefully one of these days they’ll hunker down together again, and give us that album.  Meantime, Blood Brothers is an enjoyable downpayment.
Blood Brothers is released by Gulf Coast Records on 17 March.

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