Mike Zito

Gulf Coast Records, 2021

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Texas-by-way-of-St. Louis guitar slinger Mike Zito’s pattern with new releases has typically been to match his original compositions with a substantial sprinkling of covers in which he reinterprets other artists’ work—often, though not always, fellow blues acts—in his own distinctive style. Said style being a tangy meld of Texas hard blues, New Orleans r&b and Southern rock that owes a significant musical debt to Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

Resurrection is Zito’s 11th album as a signed artist, and 15th overall counting the four self-released discs that preceded his superb 2008 Eclecto Groove debut Today. It’s also the second he’s released on his in-house label Gulf Coast Records, after solid runs with both Eclecto Groove and Ruf Records. Composed and recorded during the COVID pandemic, its often dark and searching tone ultimately reveals a resilient spirit determined to make it through to the other side. (And if that sounds like an addiction-and-recovery narrative, well, Zito’s been there, too, though that part of his story is now long in the past.)

Grammy winner David Z (Prince) returns to produce as he has several times before, and the two old friends waste no time framing these songs around Zito’s gritty, soulful voice and stinging guitar. Opener “I’ll Make Love To You” leads with searing slide and a tasty sax solo from Eric Demmer, an upbeat, rumbly JJ Cale cover that fits Zito like a glove. It’s followed by a Zito original, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” that has him half-pleading, half-demanding to the negative forces around him: “I just want to live, live my life / Don’t bring me down.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Warm Hammond organ from Lewis Stephens helps brighten the mood as “Dreaming Of You” rides a steady r&b groove, a style that suits Zito’s smoky, impassioned vocals. Things get spookier with the subdued, echo-drenched blues shuffle “In My Blood,” featuring silky-smooth harmony vocals from Lisa Leuschner Andersen. Next up Zito covers a guy who was famous for, among other things, covering JJ Cale—Mr. Eric Clapton. Producer Z goes for it, layering Matthew Johnson’s drums with echo and bringing the Hammond up in the mix as Zito delivers an impassioned performance on both vocals and guitar, culminating in a genuinely epic solo full of whammy-bar phlanginess and sustain.

The Clapton nod feels all the more genuine when Zito segues right into “When It Rains,” an original that smacks of ’80s-era old Slowhand, an atmospheric blues ballad with horns. The Texas hard blues feel returns with the sassy “You Don’t Have Me,” especially when he dots the swaggering woman-done-me-wrong verses with flashy little mini-solos in classic SRV style. Next, “Damned If I Do” offers an album highlight: a slow, urgent blues featuring superb tone and a horn section, building to a sky-hugging, ecstatic solo.

The album closes out with a genuinely odd trio. “Running Man” is a playful takedown of politicians that earns points for enthusiasm and sizzling guitar work, but none for the lyric, which feels like not just a cliché, but a lazy, counterproductive one. The American public is cynical enough already; what we need right now is people who are willing step up and try to change things for the better rather than just clowning on the sidelines. The good news is that Zito follows this misstep with a tasty, emphatic cover of Willie Dixon’s slow grinder “Evil,” before finishing up with the expansive title track, a slow, purposeful electric blues about “searching for the truth,” persevering until you achieve redemption and a kind of rebirth.

There’s an earthiness to Mike Zito’s music that’s reflexively appealing; he brings abundant skill and craft to his music, but no artificiality or pretense, affectation or gimmicks. Resurrection is another winning release for Zito, eleven tracks of raw, genuine, heartfelt performances designed to guide you through the darkness and back out into the light.

Rating: B

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© 2021 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Gulf Coast Records, and is used for informational purposes only.