I don't care what all my inky compeers are saying about Mike Zito's soulfulness, what really nails my ears is the gent's a motherfucker when it comes to crunch, weight, and funk, all of that demonstrated right from the git-go, in Don't Break a Leg. I think my crit brothers and sisters need a little more schooling in the differences between the blues and soul: the blues have soul and soul is frequently redolent with blues, but, man, just try telling me Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Ray Parker Jr., Savoy Brown, and all the great bluesers were making soul music, and the fight's on. When I say 'crunch', I don't mean ZZ Top metal, I'm referring to the hard-edged spiky firmness in every measure of any Zito composition, and just about everything in Songs from the Road is written or co-written by Zito, save for four covers. The guy's a blues bulldog.
Don't Break a Leg reminds me of a grittier companion to Sea Level's Shake a Leg, The Wheel, his backing quartet, grinding away behind gruff vocals, guitar chords, and leads. The packed-in crowd (you can catch most of the CD, and more besides, on the companion DVD) is dead nuts into it from the start, all and sundry, I strongly suspect, loaded up on good ol' Tejas brews at an upscale roadhouse dive going by the name of 'Dosey Doe'. As Mike himself notes of the band's aggressive nature "…if you're not already with us, you'd better get on board because otherwise we're gonna knock you down!" Quite true, and more than once, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a square-dancin' boot-scootin' mosh pit for celebrants.
Zito's version of Prince's Little Red Corvette completely refabricates the hit record into a Springsteen-ish ballad, which, much as I dug the original, I like this one even better. Hell on Me, one of my fave tracks, is a swingingly more mellifluous number, the band three-steppin' behind Mike's growly voice, keyboardist Lewis Stephens tossing in a swirling organ solo before Mike lets loose on guitar with a buncha Santana-ish riffs. Pearl River is pure blues, a St. James Infirmary type of song, slow and threnodic, a lament torn from the heart and long experience with some modern nastinesses thrown in. And he really cuts loose in the closing section, reminding me of Mel Galley's blues work in the later Trapeze, but I sure as hell wish he woulda carried it out much further; still: short but tasty.
The DVD is recorded in a somewhat grainy celluloid style with a frame speed that comes off like a YouTube vid, giving an old-timey impression appropriate to the music and gig…aaaaand the fact that it's in Texas, a place not exactly noted for much of progressive anything ('n, heyyyyy, ain't thet whar George Dubya 'Here, Lemme Lie to You About Iraq' Bush comes from?). Tons of atmosphere abound and not a track but that gets you in the mood for going back to the day when we started turning from Andy Griffith to darker more realistic turns of mind that nonetheless retained the life of the heartlands and bayous.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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