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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

STILL more media praise for bluesman Mike Zito's new album

Released on Ruf Records distributed by the In Tune Music Group this passed November, Make Blues Not War, is currently #1 on the Roots Music Report's Blues chart, #7 on XM Sirius' Rack of Blues 5 weeks in. The album's nabbed a nomination for "Best Blues Album" by New Orleans' Offbeat Magazine.

This is blues guitar gunslinger Mike Zito's second release since leaving the mighty Royal Southern Brotherhood (Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, Yonrico Scott, Charlie Wooton). It has been getting great press coverage and I'm including a small sampling below. It's his 13th album overall and perhaps the most energetic of the bunch. 
Guitarist, singer and songwriter Mike Zito is one of the big names of the blues, a former member of The Royal Southern Brotherhood, and this is his own 13th album overall. It's not quite a back-to-basics set, but not far off - he has the support of a trio including producer Tom Hambridge on drums; Mike himself says that the intention was to make "a kick ass blues-rock album", and he's succeeded. Mind you, he does play mostly 12 bar numbers here, and although some are loud (try the opener, 'Highway Mama'), overall this reminded me of Alligator's "high-energy" sound of the 80s - particularly Johnny Winter - brought up to date. Mike really does rock the blues here - lend an ear to 'Chip off The Block, with his son Zach on guitar, and that's not nepotism, he can play. Then again, other guests include Walter Trout and harmonica ace Jason Ricci, and the two borrowed tunes are instructive - a full-on six and a half minutes long impassioned version of the great Luther Allison's slow West side Chicago blues 'Bad News Is Coming' and the closing track, Clarence Garlow's 'Route 90', a rocking zydeco influenced blues taken straight (and wild!), with Kevin McKendree supplying some fantastic boogying piano work. You might guess I enjoyed this set - a lot! 
Norman Darwen/Blues In The South January

Mike Zito has been on our radar for several years now, with his own solo career as well as a productive stint with the Royal Southern Brotherhood.  He'd always wanted to make a fun, guitar-centric blues-rock album, and what better place to do it than right here in Nashville with drummer, composer, and producer extraordinaire Tom Hambridge at the helm.  The result is the blistering twelve cuts that remind us to "Make Blues Not War," on the Ruf label.
Let's get right to the music.  Leading off is the tale of that "Highway Mama" who'll  "make your motor run wild!" Zito's all over the guitar here, as is special guest Walter Trout on additional guitar.  The biographical story of Mike's son, Zach, is the theme of "Chip Off The Old Block," who was "bangin' on my guitar before he could walk!"  Zach's come full-circle, too, as he's the featured guitarist on this one.
"Road Dog" is perhaps the set's most poignant cut.  It details the loneliness of life on the road thru Mike's eyes, where "all I ever do is leave."  "Redbird" is full of Hendrixian psychedelia (and is perhaps Mike's answer to "Little Wing"), and "Crazy Legs" choogles along at a breakneck pace and deals with those "tight red skirts" and other things you"ll see at your neighborhood bar!
We had two favorites, too.  The title cit is a good ole slide-guitar fest with down-home harp from guest Jason Ricci as Mike prefers to "pass around the peace pipe"  instead of fighting!  And, the set closes with an absolute rockin' road trip along "Route 0," name-checking everywhere from San Antone to Katy to Beaumont on the way down to the Land Of Dreams!  Kevin McKendree's piano wraps a big ole bow on the whole thing!
With "Make Blues Not War" Mike Zito has hit on an album that is pure fun, and serves as his reminder to himself and us fans why he enjoys playing guitar!  Peace out, Mike!  Sheryl and Don Crow, the Nashville Blues Society.
Sheryl and Don Crow/ 12/30

Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War (Ruf Records). The co-founder of the excellent Royal Southern Brotherhood is now firmly established as a top notch solo performer, and Zito's new Ruf CD soared into the higher reaches of the Billboard Blues Chart on the day of its release. The Missouri-born singer and guitarist's sterling efforts are aided and abetted here by fellow bluesmen Walter Trout and Jason Ricci as he unveils what is arguably his finest offering to date, blessed with muscular gems such as Highway Mama and the harmonica-led Chicago blues of the robust title track.
 Kevin Bryan/ 1/2

Zito proves that the blues are still a vibrant and exciting musical genre. There is a tendency for blues music to sound very similar and hard to distinguish individual songs. Zito completely tears that myth down on Make Blues Not War by showing his versatility. Not only is Zito a world class guitar player, he is a great singer. This album mixes blues with rock and roll, southern rock and swamp rock to create an album that is infectious and each song is distinct. Zito can sing his tail off, but every song comes back to the guitar and his playing is smokin'.
Mike Zito is no stranger to the music business. This is the Saint Louis native's ninth solo album. Not only has Zito had a very prolific and successful solo career, he was a founding member of the Royal Southern Brotherhood (2010-2014) which included the likes of Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, Charlie Wooton, and Yonrico Scott. When he is not playing, he is also a sought after producer.
The title track, Make Blues Not War (Track5), is a traditional blues number that Zito takes to the third power with blazing guitar solos and harmonica that raises the roof on this number. He pays homage to blues legends on this song, including Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and BB King. The song is about peace through music. Being able to tear down barriers with the power of song. It is a good sentiment and should be employed more often, for sure.
Bad News Is Coming (Track 7) is a slower tempo blues number that clocks in at six and a half minutes. It is a relatively long song but plays like a three minute song because of Zito's outstanding guitar playing. This song is exciting and the solos contain a lot of twists and turns to make this song extremely interesting and one that you will want to hear over and over. 
Wasted Time (Track 3) is great number similar in style to the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. Zito's guitar is pretty darn good on this tune. Although this song and the others may be about topics that are normally sad or "blue", Zito has the ability to make these numbers uplifting and not feel depressing or blue at all. That is a rare talent, indeed, and you should give Make Blues Not War a serious listen.
Harry Kaplan/ 1/1

Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Mike Zito sure ain't kidding when it comes to making the blues. Zito's impassioned vocals and blistering guitar playing are red hot scorching to the point were your stereo speakers might just be reduced to smoking embers. The stomping beats and steady tempos slither along with breathtaking forward-ho precision. The protracted jams not only draw out every last ounce of pure angst, but also tear into the tasty fat pulsating grooves in an admirably savage and relentless manner. A fantastic album. 
Joe Wawrzyniak,

An old pal of Elmore, Mike Zito, chats with senior writer, Jim Hynes, about his new album, Make Blues Not War, and provides a bit of career perspective as well, reflecting on his time with Royal Southern Brotherhood, his choice to leave behind the Wheel, the vibrant Houston music scene and, most important of all, recruiting a key new member for his touring act.
Elmore Magazine: How does it feel to have the album out that you've long wanted to make and see it rise immediately to #1 on the blues Billboard chart?
Mike Zito:  You know, in the roots and blues world, this is as good as it gets. I try to put more stock into going out to play, but in order to do it; you need to keep making records. It feels especially good for this record, because we are not breaking any new ground. We're just cutting loose and having fun. So, to see it be successful is like a bonus.
EM: I really liked what you were doing with the Wheel, and the band seemed especially tight live. Why go in a different direction?
MZ: The Wheel is a great band. I'd been doing it a while, from 2012 through 2015. I enjoy being in a band, I love writing songs, playing blues, blues-rock and playing guitar and jamming. The jamming part is not easy to do in a band, and the Wheel didn't really like it. It got to a point where I felt like I was fighting for space in my own project. When you've been doing the same thing, things start to get stale at a certain level. I could sense that, and it just seemed like it was time to take a break. Going out and just playing guitar like I'm doing now... heck, I haven't done something like this since the '90s.
EM: I'm curious, because your former bandmate in RSB, Devon Allman, (and we grieve with him in the loss of his mom) also sought out Tom Hambridge for his Ragged and Dirty album, with some inspiration from Luther Allison. You took a similar path. Is it coincidental, or did you and Devon talk about it?
MZ:  I introduced Devon to Tom Hambridge. Tom and I have been talking about doing this record of mine for eight years. Devon wanted to go more in the direction of blues, but really didn't have a lot of background and needed someone to help him. Luther Allison is my favorite artist. I was a big fan of Ruf Records and Luther in the '90s. I have all of his records. In fact, I always wanted to be on Ruf Records, and when I got the chance, I encouraged my manager, Reuben Williams, to get on the label. Cyrille recorded Luther's "You Can Run But You Can't Hide," Devon did "Ragged and Dirty" and I just produced Big Dog for Albert Castiglia, and he did "Drowning at the Bottom." I learned that Ruf had two of Luther's guitars in storage in New York and one of them was a Flying V Gibson that had been in storage for fifteen years that still had Luther's original strings on there. That's the guitar I played on "Bad News Coming," and also the guitar Albert used on his Luther song. Wow!  What a feeling to be playing his guitar while honoring his song.
[read the rest of the interview here: 
 Jim Hynes/ 12/15

It's not limited to drinking and losing and living life the wrong way. Blues music can encompass any number of themes, and Mike Zito has found an audience for his songs about sobriety and recovery.
The Texas-based blues guitarist makes a living on the road playing blues clubs and blues festivals. But those aren't Zito's only gigs. Because of the lack of an established blues club in several cities, today's blues circuit might include a show at a nontraditional venue like a VFW Hall, a golf course or a motorcycle club - anywhere a promoter can find a room. His local show falls into the latter scenario, and it's a good match for artist and audience. 12/14
That atmosphere of positivity began at the album sessions, as Mike tracked alongside Grammy Award-winning producer (and co-writer) Tom Hambridge at the Sound Stage Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. "It was so much fun," Zito remembers. "It's a completely live album, where the musicians all set up and we just hit record and went for it. The energy was awesome and sometimes we'd just be laughing so hard because it was all so intense and exciting."

 As the momentum gathered, the songs coalesced with an awesome flow, Mike painting in every shade of blue, from the frantic six-string showboating of "Crazy Legs" to the growling slow-burn of "Red Bird" and the smoky slide work on "Girl Back Home." "It was time," he says, "to get back to the blues and playing my guitar. Tom and I had spoken about making a kick ass blues-rock album for years. I like having fun and cutting loose - that's what this album is all about. "Chip Off The Block" was written for my oldest son, Zach Zito, who is the featured guitarist on this track. It's his first introduction into the music world and he did a great job. I couldn't be more proud of him. He graduates college next spring and joins me on tour in summer - I can't wait."

Meanwhile in his lyrics Mike searches for the silver linings in a troubled world. "I love writing songs and sharing deep feelings," he says. Zito describes "Road Dog," the album's wistful slow-blues travelogue as, "the most serious tune on the album. It's about the drama of life on the road. I know it can seem clich├ęd sometimes, but it's the life I lead. I miss my family, miss my wife, but this is what I do. I always leave."

Mike has spent over two decades on the run. He grew up in a hard-scrabble, blue-collar home in St. Louis, but after an early job at a downtown guitar shop exposed him to heavyweights like B.B. King, the Allmans and Eric Clapton (then the music of Joe Pass, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson), he set out to establish himself as a working musician. By 1997, Mike had released debut album Blue Room, and seemed to be going places. "The first time you hear yourself," he recalls, "you think, 'Wow, that almost sounds like music!'"

Then came the bumps in the road. By the early 2000's, alcoholism and drug abuse were threatening to rob Zito of his livelihood and talent, a period starkly addressed on the title track from 2011's acclaimed Greyhound album. "I just couldn't stop," he admits. "And a lot of the opportunities that I had back then - they kinda went away."

Thankfully, the epiphany of meeting the woman who would become his beloved wife put Mike back on the right path. In 2012, he found fresh inspiration as a member of  the A-list lineup of Royal Southern Brotherhood, then struck out with acclaimed solo albums Gone To Texas (2013) and Keep Coming Back (2015).
"I have many more hurdles to jump and more goals to strive for," he says, "but I'm very pleased and thankful with how I'm developing as an artist." This is powerfully demonstrated on Make Blues Not War, another step forward for this long-suffering disciple of the Blues. "I'm so proud of this new album," says Mike. "It's about the enjoyment I get when I listen to Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Luther Allison. Their music makes me happy and reminds why I wanted to play guitar and play the blues. To be free and honest, loud and proud. I hope everyone enjoys listening to this album as much as I enjoyed making it..."
 Modern life moves fast. Rolling news. Rapid-fire tweets. A relentless barrage of (mis)information. Make Blues Not War is an album that demands you sign out, log off and turn yourself over instead to the old-fashioned pleasures of great music. "We hear about everything 24/7 now," says Mike Zito. "The news never stops and it's all become propaganda. But when you turn off the news and turn on some blues, the world is a beautiful place. I think music is the cure for all ailments. Always has been. Always will be."

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