Every Rod Piazza record is one step deeper than the previous, and this is no exception.
What is different here is that for the first time, the Mighty Flyers are a quartet.
As always, the band's classic one-two punch features Rod blowing his seasoned harmonica as his wife, Honey Piazza, lights up the stage with her boogie-woogie piano. But now, Honey's left hand doubles as the quartet's bass player. Henry Carvajal continues to expand the depth and power of his guitar work, and drummer Dave Kida is the engine that kicks these 14 diverse tunes.
A year ago Rod and the Mighty Flyers were voted a Blues Music Award as the 2006 Band of the Year.
How do you answer that honor?
If you are Rod Piazza, you go into the studio and record. When you combine the expertise of Rod and Honey Piazza, perennial BMA nominees, with Randy Chortkoff and his exciting Delta Groove label, also a multi-nominated BMA label, the resulting disc is strictly Thrillsville.
Armed with only the occasional horn work of Johnny Viau and Allen Ortiz on saxes, the expert mix of artistic spontaneity coupled with exquisite song selection has produced one Rod's finest records. There's enough deep blues tones to thrill every blues lover, but Rod's also ready to deliver soulful ballads, lively R&B, and even some funky surprises.
Like diatonic bookends, the disc starts and finishes with Rod preachin' blues truth on two Little Walter tunes.
On the opening cut, Rod finds common harmonica ground between Walter's “Hate To See You Go,” and Slim Harpo's “Shake Your Hips.” The disc closes as so many Mighty Flyers' shows might, with Rod, Honey and Henry talkin' an after hours, musical conversation on Walter's “Sad Hours.”
But sandwiched between are a dozen of the M.F.B.Q.'s finest.
Two Piazza originals, “Snap Crackle Hop” and “Stranded,” are table setters destined to become staples of every Mighty Flyer live show. Listen behind “Get Wise,” a gritty, West Memphis guitar rocker, to hear the command of Dave's aggressive drums pushing Honey and Henry's solos.
Other blues highlights include Rod's dyed-in-the-blues reed work on Junior Wells' seminal “Hoodoo Man.” Honey's roller coaster treble runs, and Henry's conversational guitar backing make this one of the finest covers ever. When Chicago blues legend Billy Boy Arnold recently heard Rod play it, he told Rod, “God damn it, that's the best “Hoodoo Man” I ever heard. Junior ain't never played it that good.”
The middle of the record features the powerful M.F.B.Q., a funky, James Brown styled instrumental stretch. Honkin' tenors, chest thumpin' bass, greasy guitars and Rod's Mississippi saxophone scream to get up and break out in a cold sweat.
Just when you think the band's getting away from its blues comfort zone, they throw down their trademark groove on “Honey Bee,” an elegant finger snappin' combination of Rod's tough harp, Honey's tight piano choruses, and Henry's supercharged soloing.
Because there are four players who play together every night as a cohesive group, Rod feels that this record captures the unique moment when creativity and the spontaneous interplay between the talent pool. Two instrumentals, “The Civilian,” and “Westcoaster,” illustrate that moment. Both began as wide-open ideas between these players in Rod's front room, and easily build into fresh, one-take songs.
The most daring cut is Rod's tender R&B ballad, “It Can't Be True.” His stylish vocal exposes a unique vocal side of Piazza the singer. Lights low and saxes growling, it's easy to picture dancers doin' the stroll at a 1950s dance party.
Rod's blues keep twisting deeper into the genre with the back porch duet between Rod and Henry on “Stranger Blues,” taken from a down home Sonny Terry-Brownie McGhee recording. All that's missin' is Rod whoppin', a la Sonny.
This is one of the best of the blues albums for 2008.