Mike Zito – First Class Life (2018)

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Like so many blues-rockers before him, hard livin’ had threatened to derail the career of the talented singer, songwriter and guitar slinger Mike Zito. Thankfully he made it out the other side to not only survive, but also thrive. Many years after putting his addiction ordeal behind him, Zito still looks back with gratitude that the blues gave him his life’s calling and he had the fortitude to overcome the temptations that come with that lifestyle.

Now out on Ruf Records, First Class Life shows his appreciation for his current situation. Done up in a single day by him and his sharp backing band at his home studio near Beaumont, Texas, Zito’s been around long enough to know that the real blues can only be played with what he rightly asserts is “conviction and style.”

“Mississippi Nights” is a declaration that the blues won’t be watered down, a no-nonsense get-down stomper where he sings about what the good life is about when brags “I’ve got Muddy on the radio/I’ve got my woman on my right.” “First Class Life” is a blunt account of how low he was and how his wife gave him a “second chance” at that first class life, a gritty but ebullient rocker. He pays fealty to the love of his life again on the blues shuffle “Dying Day.”

The bluesman takes a look at the inequitable state of affairs outside his own life and finds “The World We Live In” needing some fixing up as he once was. On this track, Zito takes time to put down a solo short on speed and long on earnestness. The inequity, as Zito points out on “Old Black Graveyard,” extends even beyond death. His dragged-to-the-ground slide guitar tells the tale of the final resting place for many African-Americans at unkempt, unmarked cemeteries. And “Time For A Change” might apply to the current, hate-filled state of affairs but this call for action has a timeless tone to it.

“Mama Don’t Like No Wah Wah” is a funky number co-composed with Bernard Allison, who lends his – naturally – wah-wah guitar to the affair. A reference to the late blues queen Koko Taylor, the lighthearted song grew out of Allison’s experience playing guitar for her and discovering her dislike for guitar effects pedals.

Zito finds the strong bond between the blues and soul music with “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treat Me)” and his voice is perfectly for that Memphis sound. “Damn Shame” is the dirty, low-down blues that no blues record would be complete without, and Zito empties out his bag of licks.

The fastest blues is saved for last, and “Trying To Make A Living” ends the set as no-frills and energetic as it began.

To Mike Zito, First Class Life is taking joy in the place he finds himself in. For the rest of us, it’s just first class blues.


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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