In Heavy Rotation: Blues

Mike Zito: His big heart shines through on Resurrection (Photo: Scott Lukes courtesy of Mark Pucci Media)



Mike Zito

Gulf Coast Records

Few artists have battled demons as savage as Mike Zito’s once were and lived to tell the tale. In diary-like detail, he chronicled this frightful period of his life, and his subsequent resurrection, in 2014’s Gone to Texas; now, on Resurrection, he dives into the well of conflicting emotions the pandemic brought on. Produced with sizzling sonics by the redoubtable David Z, Zito is at his merciless, shredding best on guitar, singing with gritty authority and penning what are arguably his most intensely personal lyrics yet. Through it all, Zito’s big heart shines through. The album opening “Don’t Bring Me Down” is a white-hot howl about love seemingly lost and then, yes, resurrected, its anguished confessions burnished by Eric Demmer’s frighteningly apocalyptic sax solo; later, the cool shuffle of “In My Blood” tones things down to underscore the sincerity of Zito’s mea culpa about fear of commitment, with Lisa Anderson’s whispered backing vocals adding a haunting shadow to Zito’s soul baring lead. Ultimately the crunching blitzkrieg treatment of Clapton’s “In the Presence of the Lord” best embodies the battle between the id, ego and super-ego animating Zito’s own original tales. The first post-pandemic masterpiece? Resurrection’s a contender. David McGee

‘In My Blood,’ Mike Zito, from Resurrection




Bob Corritore & Friends

VizzTone/SWMAF Records

Coming off one of last year’s finest blues albums, The Gypsy Woman Told Me, the redoubtable Bob Corritore extends and expands the concept on Spider In My Stew. Graced, as Gypsy was, by Vince Ray’s evocative, provocative cover illustration, Corritore is typically dazzling throughout on chromebone (translation: harmonica) in support of a bevy of genuine blues all-stars visiting the festivities. The lineup includes the sassy, no b.s. Diunna Greenleaf sending an unequivocal message to a misguided paramour, “Don’t Mess With the Messer,” aided by honkin’ bursts of Doug James’s sax and a fusillade of pounding piano; by contrast, ruminate on the slow, grinding “Sleeping With the Blues,” featuring soul-drenched relationship advisories by the incomparable Johnny Rawls with Corritore’s wailing harp and some stinging guitar interjections adding urgency to the messaging. Elsewhere, Francine Reed delivering the soul-gospel goods on an intense declaiming of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”; Sly Perry rocking furiously on Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”; and Willie Buck, with Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin on guitar, simply scorching the merciless roadhouse blues of “Soon Forgotten” comprise only a few of the album’s stellar, penetrating basic blues testimonies so vital for sustaining life as we know it. David McGee

‘I Shall Be Released,’ Bob Corritore and Friends, with Francine Reed on lead vocal on a Bob Dylan cover from Spider in My Stew




Maria Muldaur

Stony Plain

We’ve all heard of the Great American Songbook. Thanks to the commitment of a few dedicated contemporary artists, a Great American Roots Music Songbook is fast taking shape. Maria Muldaur, one of the trailblazers in this effort, ventured to New Orleans for her latest contribution and teamed with local roots band Tuba Skinny on a glorious saunter through a dozen vintage tunes from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Irving Berlin, who arguably begat the Great American Songbook, gets his due here via “He Ain’t Got Rhythm,” cool and swinging thanks to the genial tuba, clarinet, coronet and trombone punctuations over, under and around Muldaur’s frisky reading of Berlin’s witty, literate lyrics. Sweet sensuousness arises from the rhythmic strut and suggestive vocal animating “I Go For That,” whereas the lively bounce and Maria’s jaunty take on “Let’s Get Happy Together,” written by Lil Harden Armstrong, belie its sad story describing deposed lovers rising in tandem above their despair. Treasures from ages past (originally recorded by the likes of the Boswell Sisters and the woefully obscure female trumpet virtuoso Valaida Snow) given an irresistible new sheen—Muldaur has done it before, but arguably never better. David McGee

‘Let’s Get Happy Together,’ Maria Muldaur & Tube Skinny swing it and bring it on the new album’sLil Hardin Armstrong-penned title tune




Sue Foley

Stony Plain

One of the Covid era’s feel-good music stories involves Sue Foley, native Canadian returning to Austin, the city to which she emigrated years ago and which lured her back with its siren sounds, emerging with Pinky’s Blues following three concentrated days of recording with a few trusted friends. Fittingly, the album is steeped in the Texas blues that shaped Foley’s own art, as is evident right off the bat in her stinging six-string salvo on the title track, practically an homage to Stevie Ray Vaughan and something of a mission statement for this long player. The tight backing combo includes Foley’s original bassist, Jon Penner, returning for these sessions; Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton; producer Mike Flanigan on Hammond B3; and making his howling presence felt on a memorable set-to with Foley on her own blues stomp, “Hurricane Girl,” one Jimmie Vaughan. In addition to two other originals and a pair of well-turned Angela Strehli tunes (including the searing slow blues of betrayal, “Say It’s Not So”, with a piercing guitar solo doubling the despair in Foley’s vocal) Foley credibly assays older blues chestnuts along the lines of Frankie Lee Sims’s rocking “Boogie Real Low” (driven by her white-hot guitar solo) and a most disarming change of pace via lovely ballad performance of Lillie Mae Donley’s “Think It Over,” the command and subtlety of the reading suggesting Ms. Foley should visit her tender side more often. Infectious energy, high spirits, impassioned performances—Pinky’s Blues wears very well. David McGe

‘Say It’s Not So,’ written by Angela Strehli, from Sue Foley’s Pinky’s Blues

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