The name may not ring any bells (sorry Tony!) for you, but for a guy forty years into a distinguished career to be only just releasing his debut album, you have to wonder why it’s taken so long…well, it was mainly due to the admirable desire to stay with and bring up his family. Then, in steps, the guitar wizard and recent record label boss, Mike Zito and co-owner Guy Hale to record his work on their new Gulf Coast Records and suddenly the ‘hidden’ talents of one Tony Campanella are revealed in all of their glory… and praise be for that as Tony is a damn good guitarist who can now be appreciated by a wider audience than those lucky St Louis residents who have been enjoying his live shows for so long. His calibre can be further illustrated by the list of artists he has opened for: Etta James, Robin Trower, Deep Purple, Bernard Allison, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Koko Taylor, and Shemekia Copeland to name a few. So, now we get to share in the secret as he releases Taking It To The Street; a collection of originals and covers that illustrates technical ability by the bucket load and, importantly, that elusive emotional element that can transform guitar playing from ‘yes, ok’ into ‘ok, yeah!’ Add into that a strong bluesy, soulful voice and a backing band of impeccable skills oh, and that man Zito contributing with his trademark slide, it all bodes well for blues and blues-rock guitar lovers…like wot I am.
It opens with the title track, Taking It To The Street, and lays down the mood for the rest of the set. The riff is heavy blues, immediate and not clichéd at all…the vocal is phased and effective but inevitably, it is the guitar that grabs your attention and when the solo arrives, it has variation, originality and isn’t overplayed and just uses enough notes to paint the picture that, as he says “I’ve been playing this here guitar since it was my only toy”. A great start that is backed up by the blues-drenched riff of Pack It Up. It sounds as if he has plugged the guitar through a Leslie as the slight ‘distortion’ adds a tone that works really well. The solo keeps the tone and travels the fretboard with fluidity and inventiveness, even if the odd SRV like style comes to mind. It’s all change for the slow blues of One Foot In The Blues where passion is communicated in every note of the guitar and, indeed, his vocal. This is the sort of stuff that Gary Moore brought back to prominence and so, it is inevitable that this will make you think of Still Got The Blues For You…a valid thought, but the playing throughout the phrases after each line of the verse and then the incendiary yet subtle solos make this very much Tony’s own. It is already regularly on repeat as the way he deploys runs and bends is simply stunning and there isn’t a shred of shred even when he playing blindingly fast. The only complaint is that it is ‘only’ six minutes long! You Don’t Know brings the funk into the blues but keeps the lovely phrasing through the verses and then the solo is picked with a thoughtful play on the earlier melodies and again has rapid runs and lovely bends as all six strings and all of the frets contribute. Next is the first cover…Sonny Boy Williamson’s immortal Good Morning Little Schoolgirl has been done by so many and many done so badly. I’m glad to report that this is an inventive interpretation that may (or may not) have taken a little influence from the best ever version that Paul Rodgers did on his Muddy Waters album. OK he doesn’t sing like Paul (none does) but this is up there alongside that one. We even get a Darryl Sweet style drum outro which I loved Albert King’s Finger On Your Trigger gets the Campanella treatment and, again, he has managed to keep the essence of the original and infused it with his own character and passion. I think Mr King would have approved as the phrasing is all Tony but echoes the master so cleverly. Eddie Vinson gets the Tony tweaks next as he covers the anthem to bald-men everywhere, including Tony and yours truly, with Mr Cleanhead. This oh-so typical slice of blues is wonderfully handled by Tony and the band. It has touch of the solo Mickey Moody’s about it with the vocal tonality and guitar punctuation…and that is a very good thing. The similarity is partly brought to the fore in my mind by the delicious solo too. Sonny Boy Williamson II is next with the rocked up and yet recognisable Checking On My Baby. It keeps the shuffle and feel but with the B3 washing across the backing, the guitar sounds even better as the picked phrases are crystal clear and (I tried and failed this bit) the runs so fluid, it is a delight. It’s back to originals for the rest of the album and although Texas Chainsaw has a title that may sound like others, it is a swampy masterpiece with a distinct Ten Years After, Love Like A Man feel. Zito joins in on slide and together they make this a stunning slice of true and proper blues. It also uses old-fashioned stereo to place a guitar in each speaker and that adds to the total guitar bliss this track lays on in layers and as the two guitar protagonists duet and fight it just keeps getting better. My Motor’s Running is in a lighter vein and is old style blues with a modern twist that get the toes tapping and the rest swaying. Another quality solo prevents the familiar becoming a burden. Final track, Those Are The Times, finishes the album with a slow blues-drenched love ballad that nods toward BB’s version of Need Your Love So Bad and that is a compliment. It benefits from piano and B3 backing and a bass and drum subtly that despite the BB references is still good enough to stand apart. The guitar parts are unprocessed and full of emotion.
This is a very high-quality album of guitar-led blues. Zito, is certainly signing some significant talent, Albert Castiglia for example, and I for one thank him for that; after all, with Tony, the rest of the world can now enjoy a player at his peak and all I can add is that they need to get back in the studio and produce more of this fabulous blues and blues-rock…now!
NINE doodle paws out of TEN …
- Taking It To The Street
- Pack It Up
- One Foot In The Blues
- You Don’t Know
- Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
- Finger On The Trigger
- Mr. Cleanhead
- Checking On My Baby
- Texas Chainsaw
- My Motor’s Running
- Those Are The Times
Tony Campanella – Vocals, Guitar
Terry Dry – Bass Guitar
Matt Johnson – Drums
Mike Zito – Rhythm Guitar/Slide Guitar
Lewis Stephens – Piano/Organ/Wurlitzer