Gulf Coast Records [Release 15.07.19]
It’s often said that an artist discovers their best work when they find their muse. And when Albert Castiglia tells us that his new ‘Masterpiece’ album resulted from finding a daughter he didn’t know he had, you aren’t about to argue. It gave him a brand new perspective and context for an album of tightly focused songs (including 2 covers) that carries plenty of emotional weight.
It’s a sparsely produced album that focuses on lyrical substance, Castiglia’s raw vocal attack and rough-edged guitar playing.
Both he and co-producer Mike Zito play all the instruments, and craft a musical landscape built on subtle hypnotic beats with an array of guitar tones and sharp solos.
It’s an album that also broadens Castiglia’s musical oeuvre from that of an unreconstructed old school Chicago blues man – he learnt his craft with Jnr. Wells – (albeit he’s a Florida native of Cuban/ Italian descent ), into a more stripped down Americana and song driven direction.
He forges his own roots rocking blues style, as his producer Mike Zito strips things down to focus on Castiglia’s heartfelt lyrics.
While his song writing was the fulcrum of his ‘Big Dog’ album, and his last release ‘Up All Night’ was a live-in-the-studio vehicle for his road tested band, ‘Masterpiece’ is different again.
It draws on a well of raw emotions that gives his lyrics punch and his guitar playing real grit. And though the more minimalist approach initially deprives him of a more immediate impact, it serves to draw us into the kernel of his songs in the manner of say John Fogerty, whilst his growled out vocals often evoke John Hiatt.
The album opens with the excellent Castiglia/Zito co-write ‘Bring On The Rain’. Significantly it also boasts the biggest production sound on the album to frame Albert’s gnawing vocal with chiming guitars, booming drums and a catchy resolving hook that draws us into the heart of the song’s bluster.
It’s also a good template of what to expect from an album recorded with a minimalist backbeat, rumbling bass and a lived-in voice flanked by edgy guitar tones.
‘Heavy’ is equally good, opening with what sounds like a drum machine, a hypnotic riff and Castiglia’s nasal timbre. It perfectly casts him in a role of a sardonic outsider and a narrator who lyrically stands up for the disenfranchised and disillusioned: “Think I’ll wash myself on the banks of the levee , these days ain’t getting hard, they’re just getting heavy.”
The interwoven guitar solo at the heart of the song conveys the lyrical feel beautifully, on a subtly produced track that asks much of Castiglia, but who breaks new ground on one of his very best songs.
The title track is the other highlight of the album. Stripped back even further by Zito’s natural restraint, it’s a delicately woven mesh of acoustic guitar, George Harrison style slide, tic-toc snare and a croaked voice, that sounds as if he’s fought his through a barbed wire fence to deliver his most heartfelt lines.
The album’s intrinsic flow is further underpinned by contrasting lyrical intent. There’s the abrasive angst of ‘I Tried To Tell Ya’ and the clever juxtaposition of the gentle title track with the edgy ‘Thoughts & Prayers’, a stomp that could even be John Lennon, which makes the most of a sparse groove and repeated hook into a piercing burst of riffs.
He employs a Neil Young style dirge on ‘Keep On Swinging’, as he racks up the volume to distortion levels, before fattening the sound further with dual guitar lines. It’s also a song on which the dark and heavy music starkly contrasts with the optimistic lyrics.
There are two covers, both of which are straight-up blues that again are in sharp contrast to the rest of the album.
Both Johnny Winter’s drug themed ‘Too Much Seconal’ and Muddy Waters ‘I Wanna Go Home’ finds the duo revelling in the challenge of re-igniting a brace of blues staples. The fact that the latter sounds more like an after hours bonus track, tells you all you need to know about the quality of the album as a whole.
Beyond the poignant lyrics, it’s the musical diversity that glues the album together, as evidenced by the Zito penned and Stonesy country undertow of ‘Catch My Breath’, while Castigilia’s riff- driven ‘Red Tide Blues’ is an ecological song about Florida, with a melange of slide guitar and sludgy beats mixed way back behind his brusque voice: “Beaches are empty, the fish are dead, business is slow and in the red.”
‘Masterpiece’ is Albert Castiglia’s best work. If buy into the Americana feel of the sparse production and the real emotional charge at the heart of the album, then you quickly realise that this is one of the most heartfelt blues albums of the year.
It’s all there on the intricate intro, guttural growl and moving lyrics of ‘Love Will Win The War’. The song is about living in the shadow of gun violence and mass shootings, but he infuses a particular event with universal meaning without preaching. It’s a fine example of contemporary blues at its finest, as part of a rough-hewn ‘Masterpiece’. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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