Album review: MIKE ZITO & THE WHEEL – Gone To Texas

Mike Zito

Ruf [Release date 17.06.13]

Mike Zito’s ‘Gone To Texas’ is both a literal and metaphorical title, reflecting the fact he’s overcome his previous drug and alcohol problems and has moved to Texas from the mid- west in search of sobriety and a fresh start. In fact the album is an autobiographical step in the career of the Royal Southern Brotherhood founder member whose song writing ability was never better showcased than here.

If the award winning ‘Greyhound’ was all about his troubles and running away from his demons, then ‘Gone To Texas’ is more about finding contentment and a celebration of his current life in a musical form: ‘My Eyes have seen the glory, one step at the time, I’ve found hope in redemption and a sky as big as God.’

And though the profile of this solo album is in no small part due to the current high standing of the Royal Southern Brotherhood supergroup, this album is a deeply personal work with songs that suggest a man with a mission.

‘Gone To Texas’ drips with feel and the music cleverly evokes lyrical meaning, leaving Mike just enough room to emote with his gravely voice, while occasionally adding peerless slide guitar over his road tested rhythm section.

It’s also an album that celebrates the art of the song, and his intrinsic ability to tell a personal story with a universal meaning. Throw in some delicate, full toned slide guitar parts and the fact he’s produced the album himself, and you have Mike Zito, the total package.

His husky voice resonates with emotion drawn from lyrics that pertain all too readily to his own experiences. And he sets out his stall on the title track, as a gnarled tenor in white boy soul territory, on a song that envelops you as it meanders towards a gentle fade out.

‘Rainbow Bridge’ features the incomparable slide of slide of Sonny Landreth on a track that could easily be Little Feat, while there’s a real New Orleans feel to ‘Subtraction Blues’ on which his lived in voice perfectly phrases over the second line beat.

Mike also duets with Susan Cowsill on the Cyril Neville co-write and Tex-Mex ballad ‘I Never Knew A Hurricane’. Unsurprisingly, the song could also have come from Royal Southern Brotherhood.

His cover of Lightnin’ Hopkins’s ‘Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty’ is a cleverly faded-in track with a fierce, slide led grungy groove and doctored vocals that could be the North Mississippi Allstars.

There’s real deep rooted emotion on the self explanatory ‘Death Row’ and he gets down low and funky on the sax led ‘Don’t Break A Leg’- one of several numbers on which the arrangements are flexible enough for his road band The Wheel to stretch out. This is further evidenced by the Devon Allman co-written dusty shuffle ‘The Road Never Ends’, which find him in the good company of harp playing Texas legend Delbert McLinton.

The band positively leans into the magnificent wah-wah driven ‘Hell On Me’, which much like the slide and baritone sax of ‘Voices In Dallas’ and the celebratory ‘Wings Of Freedom’ is a lyrical reference to his troubled past.

‘Gone To Texas’ has a lived in, organic and late night feel, in which essential grooves are interlocked with messages of self affirmation, hope and ultimately optimism.

Mike Zito doesn’t so much preach about his own salvation as simply offer a musical celebration of his creative present. Looking at the photos of the CD, he’s bought into the notion of his adopted Lone Star State as an expression of the triumph of the present over his trouble past. The result is some deeply layered music that reveals more with each repeated play. **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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