Mike Zito – Greyhound (2011)

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Mike Zito’s new release Greyhound moves with impressive force between acoustic story songs, and these grinding, hellhound-chased blues-rock numbers.

You have the title track, a grifter’s road song. Traveling with only the things he can carry, Zito’s character has a fascination he just can’t shake for whatever is just over that next rise. Then, “Motel Blues” which finds Zito making a brief stop on that journey, playing his guitar just to push back the darkness. Later, he makes a nakedly emotional request for companionship on the quietly insistent “Stay,” singing over a plaintive slide. He recalls the simpler pleasures with this tasty specificity on “The Southern Side,” and then goes deeper into reminiscence on “Please, Please, Please,” an album-closing blast of soul-rending passion.

Throughout there follows this malevolent undertow, however, these moments when the Texan plugs in and faces the hard truths that run just behind every traveler: “Judgment Day” bursts out with a sawing riff, echoing the this-or-that afterlife verdict: “I don’t know,” Zito growls, in a dusky processed vocal, “which way I’m going to go.” “The Hard Way” echoes the same menacing vibe, while “Until the Day I Die” tries to find some salvation in the wake of life’s missteps.

When he growls, over and over, the title of the opening cut “Roll On,” what follows are a sweeping set of emotions — anger, sure; but also sad recrimination, and more than a little self examination. You hear, and you know, that Zito’s character senses his own place in this song’s failed relationship. Zito then digs a neck-deep groove, even while sounding so very alone, on “Hello Midnight.”

Perhaps most interesting, though, is when he moves beyond those genre boundaries on the track “Show Me The Way.” It’s then that Greyhound (Eclecto Groove Records) connects most completely, using the tension between both sides of Zito’s music-making muse to create something utterly new.

“Show Me The Way,” cowritten by the album’s Grammy-winning producer Anders Osborne, is on its face a beautifully broken love song, ending up as both heartfelt exhortation and fever-dream plea. What’s interesting is that the music traces that same uncertain path, ending up as something that is not quite blues, not quite psychedelia, not quite jazz — though bassist Carl Dufrene certainly adds a bandstand bounce — and not quite Americana.

Here, Zito’s music best reflects the bravery of his lyrics, since this song (like much of Greyhound) centers on dealing with things beyond our control — our emotions and the outcomes that follow our choices. “Show Me The Way” has a sound that makes no promises, a sound as reckless and uncertain as its subject.

All along on this record, Zito has worked to make this world’s unkindnesses, its scary realities, more bearable. On “Show Me The Way,” he did something even more important: Zito made them real.

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