In the current state of the world, music has become an important source of solace, meaning, and purpose for many…I know that in the hours of lockdown, my music has helped keep me sane. Well, as sane as I’ll ever be) and given me reasons to carry on. I’m isolating like many as much as is practicable while this Dreaded Lurgy continues. As Spike Milligan predicted in a 1954 episode of The Goon Show) continues. Especially when I did go out with a face mask on, I got nothing but strange looks…perhaps my Lone Ranger mask wasn’t the wisest choice!
Mike Zito loves his music as evidenced by the number of superb albums and guest spots that he has graced us with over the years…use the search facility and you will find many a reference to him across the pages of Bluesdoodles. His latest release, Quarantine Blues is, as the name suggests, his response to the Lurgy situation. His European tour was cancelled as the virus hit. On his flight home, he decided to write, record, mix and master a new album.
He laid down the demos and sent them to band members Matt Johnson, Doug Byrkit and Lewis Stephens who added their parts, sent them back to Mike who mixed and mastered them in his home studio…all within the fourteen days of his mandatory quarantine! Initially available for a donation download to help support Mike and the band, it is now seeing a wider release and is available on CD too on his own Gulf Coast Records label.
The result is eleven varied and powerful tracks that sound as though the band were in the same room and features plenty of the guitar wizardry we expect from Mr Zito.
Opening with Don’t Let The World Get You Down, the Petty Springsteen sound is soon heavied up a bit and the short solo is, to my ear, more expressive than the apposite words. Looking Out This Window stays in the mildly bland (IMHO) Springsteen mould but, as always with Mike, is saved by the guitar playing; both in the jangling backing and the subtle, expressive and inventive solo.
Don’t Touch Me features a cameo from the LA Guns main man, Tracii Gunns, and is much heavier and, unsurprisingly, very 80s rock flavoured and blows the cobwebs of the bland right away. Gunns’ playing is as good as I’ve heard from him…no shredding, just sensible and thoughtful playing. Quarantine Blues brings the lovely slide work Mike is known for to the fore and brings an ingenious field style approach to the story of isolation where he “can’t touch my woman, can’t sleep in my bed”. This is just guitar, drums, and voice and sounds like it is straight out of the 30s and brought into the 20s…I would have bought the album just for this song it is so damn good!
Walking The Street is blues-rock of the highest order. With Mike playing around so cleverly with the melodies and delivering a trademark solo of such quality after an infectious bridge. Dark Raven does remind me of a couple of his earlier true blues songs (Old Black Graveyard for one). This doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of this slow, weighty, and wonderful song. The guitar overdubs work a treat as he uses differing harmonics to colour the phrasing. Then the solo is, again, exceptional with just enough notes and space or sustain used to great dramatic effect.
Dust Up will have some citing ZZ Top, but that sound predates them and this song has an authentic 50s source, I feel. The solo is also like a modern update: as if Django had suddenly acquired a Marshall stack! Call Of The Wild is another nearly recognisable riff but with some brilliant guitar fills behind it all and a great solo. Who cares? After The Storm is about the cancellation of the tour and the frustration it caused but still has a hopeful note too. Set to a mid-paced blues structure with an almost languid backing speared by excellent runs and a delightful, paced solo, it captures the zeitgeist perfectly.
Hurts My Heart may be familiar to Royal Southern Brotherhood fans as it is the same song…Mike did write it and has given it a slightly edgier feel with fuzzed guitar and acoustic backing but retaining the additional phrasing and a cleverly different solo as well as allowing the keys a bit of space too. The final track, It Used To Be, moves into heartfelt acoustic blues and, unusually for such a song actually closes the storyboard rather well. The picked solo is a bit short but is oh so sweet.
So here is a record of our times. As bang up to date as it’s possible to be with a realistic take on the happenings in our world. Captured in a (mostly) a wonderfully woven blues tapestry. Well worth listening and buying to help support the artist and his crew.
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful addition to any blues collection. A useful record of the times we will, hopefully, look back on soon.
- Don’t Let The World
- Get You Down
- Looking Out This Window
- Don’t Touch Me
- Quarantine Blues
- Walking The Street
- Dark Raven
- Dust Up
- Call Of The Wild
- After The Storm
- Hurts My Heart
- What It Used To Be
Mike Zito: guitars, vocals
Matt Johnson: drums
Doug Byrkit: bass
Lewis Stephens: keyboards
Tracii Gunns: guitar on Don’t Touch Me
(The iTunes run on track unsurprisingly would have been more Zito…so I moved to the next artist and found one of my favourite blues albums of all time. Bluesheart by the criminally underrated Miller Anderson: it’s so good I just had to listen to it all…twice!)