Mike Zito and the Wheel – Gone To Texas (2013)

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Mike Zito’s life has taken him from St. Louis to Key West to southeast Texas. A deeply personal and sincere bluesman, Gone To Texas is Zito speaking — or singing, really both figuratively and literally about his long road to not only redemption, but also outright triumph.

The ace singer, songwriter and pretty-damned-good guitar player had made appearances on this space before. I loved his record label debut Today so much, it was an easy pick on 2008’s Best Of list. Nick Deriso dissected 2011’s Greyhound and was impressed with how it “moves with impressive force between acoustic story songs, and these grinding, hellhound-chased blues-rock numbers.” We skipped over Pearl River (2009) but the blues authorities didn’t and awarded the title track co-written with Cyril Neville the Blues Music Award for Song of the Year in 2010. He’s also formed blues/roots supergroup with Neville and Devon Allman, The Royal Southern Brotherhood, that actually lives up to the billing.

But for now, Zito’s mind is on that new record he made with a newly assembled dream band he calls “The Wheel.” They debut on Gone To Texas, and like Zito’s three prior records, it’s a bit autobiographical and based on the circumstances, it could have easily been called Gone To Texas and Louisiana: The album was taped at Zito’s favorite studio, which happens to be in Maurice, LA, New Orleanian Susan Cowsill — the youngest member of the fabled band of her namesake — serves as a backup singer for some tunes, and Lafayette’s own Sonny Landreth sits in on a song.

But it’s the bliss Zito has found from hanging out with the Cajun-kissed Texas music and culture of his adopted hometown of Beaumont and its environs (he found his bride in nearby Nederland) that’s given him ample inspiration for the words and music he’s put together for his latest long player. The laid-back, down home title song with its classic style blues lyrics and anthemic strain is instantly likeable. “Rainbow Bridge,” referring to the big span near Port Arthur, TX, is a rowdy stomp powered by The Wheel’s rhythm section of Rob Lee on drums and Scot Sutherland on bass with RnB supplied from the band’s saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter and swamp blues from Landreth’s singular slide. On “Voices In Dallas,” Zito sings of his past drug abuse using a gooey mix of slide, organ (from guest keyboardist Lewis Stephens) and Carpenter’s baritone sax.

It’s not all Texas themed, but it’s all just as alluring, and Zito never plays the same kind of song twice. “I Never Knew A Hurricane” is a gritty soul blues lament with s fine harmony vocal from Cowsill. “Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty” is Robin Trower style hard blues rock with a real sleazy Billy Gibbons kind of lead guitar from Zito, immediately followed by him on what must be a National Steel acoustic guitar playing Delta blues on “Death Row.”

“Don’t Break A Leg” is a James Brown styled funk approach to blues that makes you realize how close Zito’s gravel in his voice isn’t too far removed from Brown’s. Funk, the syncopated kind, is also the order of the day for “Subtraction Blues,” the kind you might find on a Dr. John song. A badassed psychedelic blues riff pervades “Hell On Me,” aided by Stephens’ cool organ and Zito’s wah wah guitar.

Delbert McClinton is the special attraction on “The Road Never Ends,” trading lead vocals with Zito on this stomping honky tonk number. They also trade off supreme blues guitar and harmonica for a no-frills, fun-filled get-together.

After hearing a revitalized Mike Vito on Today, I thought it would only be a matter of time before he ascended to the top of the heap in the current blues scene. Gone To Texas solidifies his hard-earned lofty spot with what will surely end up as one of the year’s best blues albums when it’s all said and done.

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Gone To Texas is coming out on June 11, Zito’s debut album on Ruf Records. Visit Mike Zito’s website for more info.

MIKE ZITO & THE WHEEL TOUR DATES

6/2 The Westcott Theater Syracuse, NY
6/5 Terra Blues New York, NY
6/6 Chan’s Woonsocket, RI
6/7 The Barn – Hillspring Farms Addison, NY
6/8 The Elks Club Franklin, NH
6/10 Time Out Pub Rockland, ME
6/12 Wilbert’s Cleveland, OH
6/21 Rams Head Onstage Annapolis, MD
6/22 & 6/23 Bayou Boogaloo & Cajun Festival Norfolk, VA
6/27 Cartoon’s Springfield, MO
6/28 City of Olathe Summer Concert Series Olathe, KS
6/29 Wabash BBQ Excelsior Springs, MO
6/30 Blues from the Top Winter Park, CO

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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