Jimmyh Vivino and the Black Italians

Jimmyh Vivino and the Black Italians
13 Live

Blind Pig Records

By Lady K.
July 2013

I know, I know, the name!!!! I’ll tell you what I learned about the Black Italians band name, from the album cover and the promo material. First of all, Jimmy Vivino is well-known as the music director and leader of Conan O’Brien’s house band. His Black Italians band was originally formed several decades ago for a residency at the Downtime Music Bar in NYC. Jimmy describes the band as “Third World blues with New Orleans swagger”, and the name came about due to their being ‘soulful cats’ of various ethnicities; they played together for several years until Jimmy got busy with his TV gig.

The group got together occasionally, reuniting in November, 2012, to play (and record) a concert in New York state. Players include: Jimmy (guitar, lead and background vocals, keyboards) and the Black Italians: Catherine Russell (lead and background vocals); Felix Cabrera (harp, lead and background vocals); Danny Louis (keyboards, trombone, snare drum, background vocals); Mike Merritt (bass); James Wormworth (drums); Mike Jacobson (conga/bass drums, percussion); Fred Walcott (timbales and percussion) and Justin Guip (snare drum).

13 Live contains 5 original tunes, and covers of tunes from a diverse bunch of songwriters, including Bob Dylan (“From A Buick 6” and the magical “Maggie’s Farm”), Johnny Winter and James Brown. Of the covers, the McAlister, Vail tune “Soulful Dress” is a rocking blues tune that provides an early track showcase for Russell’s sexy vocals. Johnny Winter’s “Fast Life Rider” has a long killer-guitar (of course) instrumental introduction, and some heavy-duty percussion.

“Fool’s Gold” is an original, slow blues guitar and organ tune bemoaning a woman’s regret that she went looking for a better life. ‘Sometimes a woman gets so tired of that same old, same old . . . the grass sure looks greener on the other side of the gate’. She left (walking through that gate) and realized she’d been blinded by “Fool’s Gold”. “Animalism” is an up-tempo tune, with hip-swinging salsa rhythm (dance, anyone?). And “Miss Mona” is a strangers-in-a-station,sexy blues number: ‘Hey Miss Mona, tell me do you wanna (take a trip with me?)’.

Just this morning out riding around town, Lady K had a flashback to the ‘olden’ days when she spotted a beautifully maintained GTO, with appropriately powerful sounding pipes. Had to laugh, later, when I settled down to seriously listen to and write about this album and saw the name of this track. I can relate to the rock and roll blues of “Heaven in a Pontiac” (‘can’t get there in a Cadillac’). That GTO was HOT, so is this track!!!!!

Lady K’s favorite track on this CD is the slow blues “Song for Levon”. The CD was recorded at Levon Helm’s barn/studio, and “Song for Levon” is a powerful tribute to him. The plaintive piano says it all – Levon Helm is still in the house – the ‘captain at the Helm’. ‘Good friends are hard to lose, brothers hard to find / it ain’t what you take with you, it’s what you leave behind.’

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