Mike Zito

Mike Zito

Electro Groove Records - B004ZQRFH6

By David Hayward
January 2012

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In Greyhound, hard livin’ highway man Mike Zito steps off the bus to hand you some rough-ass gulf-coast blues-rock guitar and vocals. This is Americana: twangy vocals, layers of scratchy guitars, and solid no-frill diesel-driven tunes with rock-bottom bass and drum.

Themes are classic blues - a love affair that didn’t work out, one that really looks like it might, running out of town - and time, down on your luck, second-rate motels, second-rate chow, regrets and no regrets. But there’s never a word of despair. And the only thing that gets bloody is when Zito’s guitar-playing - and that of his back-up guitarist Anders Osborne - rip it up.

Zito largely writes in the first person, typically a dialogue between a lover and himself, or you - the listener - when he’s preaching an object lesson. Like the confident simplicity of his chords and melodies, he needs only a few brush strokes to paint pictures and portraits.

Zito starts off with the “Roll On,” a lazy tempoed stomp, with a back-woods rhythm and equally back-woods slide guitar solo. Not exactly a barn-burner for an opening cut to set the pace, it certainly does set the place so you know where he’s coming from: way south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Next he revs it up more with “Greyhound” (i.e., bus), that appropriately does roll-on as the name of this title cut suggests. This one is more rock than blues, and it moves along like a Jackson Browne ballad with a gloriously ringing slide guitar above pumping bass and drum and growling rhythm guitar.

But it’s on the third cut, “Judgment Day,” when Zito and his band first show their muscle. It’s a strong riffy blues, with a slow tense beat that perfectly matches the storyline as he anticipates “what the good lord will say….on judgment day.” Lyrically, this is the stuff that great roots music, like “You’ve Got to Move,” is made of. But, unlike old-timey roots, Zito plies an almost Jimi Hendrix “Voodoo Chile” approach to the riff and soloing on this one. Vocals are impeccably tough, and the turnaround makes this different than most 12-bar blues.

And that’s exactly what makes Zito different and entertaining. He’s a rough-edge sculptor who has the classic masters in mind and then makes a unique modern artist statement. As you listen to these tunes, you hear influences, but not copies, of the guitars of Hendrix, Ry Cooder, early Jeff Beck, Steve Ray Vaughan, David Lindley, Danny Kortchmar, and Steve Winwood. The layered guitar rhythms and accents - and fearless use of fuzz, echo, compression, and Lesley Unit - give each listening an entirely new joy.

Here are a few more gems that sparkle:

Zito has done his homework, has learned some of the best lessons of the last 40 years of blues and rock, and delivers a genuine American sound that will grow on you.

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