Album review: MIKE ZITO – Resurrection

Mike Zito - Resurrection

Gulf Coast Records And Hillside Global [Release date 16.07.21]

It is 13 years since Mike Zito cut his first major label album, the David Z produced ‘Home’.

7 collaborations later, the duo reunite again on a project that sounds as if they were looking for a new sonic catalyst for their rock-blues template, while Zito digs deep for meaning right down to South Korean artist Yool Kim’s aesthetic artwork.

In 23 years as a recording artist Zito established himself as a vibrant force on the contemporary rock/blues circuit.  He made a successful career quantum leap with the all star Royal Southern Brotherhood, before returning to his solo career to achieve chart success with his last couple of pre-lockdown albums.

Even when Covid hit, he still remained a busy presence on the lockdown scene and this album breathes the oxygen of creative and post lockdown freedom.

His biggest challenge is to find a combination of great songs with an overarching theme to make his latest album more than just an aggregation of well played songs.

In the past he’s moved from the personal ‘Gone To Texas’ and the more universal ‘Make Love Not War’, to the self affirmation of ‘First Class Life’.

Then there was the self explanatory ‘Quarantine Blues’, a survivors creed to be set aside the celebratory ‘Rock N’ Roll Music – A Tribute To Chuck Berry’ album.

And in his ongoing search for meaning and context, he aims high with the thematically titled ‘Resurrection’. It’s an album that plays to his strengths of impassioned vocals, confident guitar work and an ability to slip into cross-genre styles from rock blues to Americana.

The latter style is represented by the horn inflected soulful ballad ‘Damned If I Do’, which he rounds off with a fiery solo that fades slightly too soon.

There’s plenty of contrast to match the band’s spirited playing, as on brush stroked feel of ‘In My Blood’ and the hypnotic mid-paced groove ‘Dreaming Of You’ which fits the song title perfectly.

‘Resurrection’ isn’t so much the rebirth that Mike Zito suggest, but rather a restatement of his song writing and playing credentials, all framed by a big production that places the emphasis on an imposing wall of sound.

David Z’s big production is readily apparent on the opening JJ Cale cover ‘I’ll Make Love To You’, on which Zito’s voice sound slightly doctored to fit an enveloping layered sound.  A delicious blend of Zach Zito on acoustic and dad Mike on electric slide guitar lines is finally resolved by Eric Demmer’s soaring sax solo in the last minute of the song.

It’s the kind of uplifting mid-tempo groove that he returns to on his own ‘You Don’t Have Me’, by which time the big wall of sound has receded enough to highlight the bright sonic quality of a relationship song.

There’s another JJ Cale vibe on the gentle shuffle brush stroked ‘In My Blood.’ Which embraces nuanced gospel bv’s

There’s more significant contrast on the 80’s sounding production of Blind Faith’s ‘Presence Of The Lord,’ on which the crunching drums and buzz tooth guitars support Zito’s impassioned vocal. It teeters on the brink of bombast, but is counterweighted by Mike stellar vocal performance which brings welcome feel.

‘Resurrection’ is an album that draws you into a linear progression, as Zito gradually unveils his many talents, no more so than on the swampy John Fogerty influenced  ‘When It Rains’.

Curiously the guitar solo sounds mixed back, as if drowned by the very rain of the title, but again its countered by subtle drone finish.

Ultimately, ‘Resurrection’ works so well because everything is perfectly balanced, from the tracks themselves to the way the album grows in intensity and flows via the sequencing. This serves to illuminate the baritone horn stabs, purposeful rocking and ironic lyrics of the outstanding Guy Hale co-penned ‘Running Man’ onwards.

The solo on this track seems to spark the rest of the session. So when the album veers towards the bone crunching riff intro of ‘Evil’, it’s not until the opening couplet that you realise this is a heavy version of the Willie Dixon classic.

Despite the obvious cover, we’re drawn into a raucous version of the song by Lewis Stephens organ link which ushers in sparkling band interplay, though I’m still not sure about the pedestrian drum sound.

No matter, as with the album as whole, the number builds momentum as Zito’s focussed riffs spark the song and everything flows naturally into the closing centrepiece title track.

The titular book-end provides the kind of theme Zito has been looking for. He pours everything he has into a soulful blues ballad full of raw gut emotion – both on vocals and guitar – bolstered by the kind of lyrical and emotional integrity that allows him to make a self-affirmatory statement for our times.

Too often rock and blues artists eschew the real problems and challenges of our time. This title track redresses the balance and stands like a beacon of hope readily applied to the personal as well as social landscape.

It’s the perfect finale to an album that takes its time to find its focus, but once free of the initial suffocating production, it realizes its organic potential through Zito’s melodic note selection, while his lyrical phrasing drips with emotion and feel as he triumphantly reunites with his band in the glorious service of the song.

‘Resurrection’ is a fine restatement of the best elements of rocking blues with a soulful heart. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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