Rod Piazza and The All Mighty Flyers

Rod Piazza and The All Mighty Flyers
Almighty Dollar

Delta Groove Productions

By Tony Del Rey
August 2011

While so many Blues acts touting themselves as the “real deal” with their insistence upon covering tired old standards that invariably come off as more replication than innovation, vocalist and harmonica player nonpareil Rod Piazza and his All Mighty Flyers don’t seem to mind bucking the trend with their latest release, Almighty Dollar.

While 10 of the album’s 12 tracks are in fact covers, there’s not a “Dust My Broom” or a “Sweet Home Chicago” in the bunch. What stands in their place are the essentials of great music-making: obscure Blues and R&B composed by artists who cut their teeth at legendary labels such as Cadillac Records and the Specialty Label, performed here in grand style by players who know how to put the material over with renewed vitality.

Almighty Dollar’s elaborate song arrangements, particularly on tracks like Henry Glover’s “What Makes You So Tough,” and the Granger/Robbins-penned, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If We Do,” are built around ear-catching, piano-based melodies provided by Rod’s wife, Honey. A supremely accomplished musician in her own right, Honey’s barrel-house style lends the album its warm, rich feel - the kind of feeling that analog imparts as compared to the cold precision of digital recording.

While Piazza’s prowess on the harp figures prominently in most of its tracks, Almighty Dollar is anything but a showcase for the man to show off his chops. Oh, but what talent when he does! Listen to him on the album opener, Jimmy Liggins,’ “Move Out Baby,” and you’ll hear a musician whose proficiency isn’t measured in the number of notes he plays, but rather the quality with which he makes them count. His efficiency is a style unto itself.

Understandably, a player of Piazza’s stature prefers the company of other musicians who are of a similar mind. The lead guitar work turned in by special guest, Rusty Zinn is refreshingly understated. His solo playing on Lloyd Glenn’s “Blue Shadows” and Jesse Belvin’s “Baby Don’t Go” is more akin to Hubert Sumlin’s economical approach than say, Buddy Guy’s gunslinger method of expression, yet it still cuts through with a defined sense of purpose and clarity.

Another musical guest who turns up is vocalist Johnny Dyer whose contribution is to nail Muddy Waters cold on the shuffle, “Loving Man.” Every nuance and vocal mannerism is accounted for in Dyer’s uncanny impersonation of the great man. Coupled with Honey’s sweet piano homage to Pinetop Perkins, the track sounds as true to the original recording as can be produced using twenty-first century technology.

Also worth mentioning are two tracks that point up Piazza’s remarkable talent as both a producer and a singer. The waiting-with-bated-breath vocal delivery he uses on the jazz-based Brinkely/Herman composition, “Wine, Wine, Wine,” is hilariously entertaining. He fairly croons the song’s melancholy lines over Honey’s jagged piano figure: “Give me a great big glass of wine… ‘Cause it’s eight forty-five and it’s just about that time.” The track sounds like it was cut in a Holiday Inn piano lounge!

The other is a schmaltzy Doo Wop number originally recorded by Ritchie Valens titled, “We Belong Together.” On this track, Piazza gives it the full-on 50’s treatment complete with heavy studio reverb and stacked vocal harmonies. There’s an unmistakable earnestness to Piazza’s voice as he pours out the song’s heart-on-the-sleeve sentiment. It’s clearly a favorite song remembered from his teenage years and made especially poignant by the image of him singing it here in the studio to the lovely Honey.

Despite its emphasis on material that has long since faded into obscurity, Almighty Dollar cannot be dismissed as a romantic tribute to the songs of yesteryear. Rather, the album is a major restoration project in which pieces of fine art, lost or damaged with the passage of time, are magically restored to their original beauty and luster by the capable hands of a master craftsman.

I suspect Rod Piazza has many more of them stashed away in his record collection.

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