NEW YORK: Mike Zito's Pearl River CD Review - by J. Blake

Posted on 10/13/2009 by J. Blake

St. Louis native Mike Zito lands on the Billboard Blues Music Charts’ Top 10 with his latest Electro Groove release; an album titled PEARL RIVER. It marks his second turn at bat with the record label and veteran producer David Z. and features an assortment of notable guests that include Cyril Neville, Susan Cowsill, Anders Osborne, Reese Wymans and Lynwood Slim.

Zito penned 9 of the CD’s 13 tracks and attacks the material with a soulfully throaty vocal (not unlike John Mayer) and an aggressive assault of overdriven single-coil/Fender guitar tone; a sound that has unfortunately become the standard for budding blues guitarists in the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s impact on the music world. Though far from weak, Zito’s writing ability is not quite as fine-tuned or as seasoned as many other reviews of this album seem to indicate. With a few exceptional highlights aside (like Change My Ways and the Tom Waits-esque The Dead of Night), his original material does not quite holdup against his blues veteran predecessors’ or even the cream of his contemporaries’, but it does bear the signs of definite promise.

Stylistically, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s influence exceeds Zito’s familiar guitar-tone and becomes even more apparent on tracks like Dirty Blonde Hair, Big Mouth and the Sonny Boy Williamson standard Eyesight to the Blind. Clapton is another of Zito’s (cited) guitar-heroes that seemingly rears his head via the fingers and pen of this aspiring blues/rock great. 39 Days grooves with a thunderous riff that pays homage to the Jack Bruce penned Cream classic Politician and features lead guitar work that is executed with a distinctively Slowhand-esque smoothness and precision. Lead-wise the same could be said about Change My Ways, a track that while rhythmically taking a cue from B.B. King’s The Thrill is Gone, would sound at home on almost any of Clapton’s post-2000 studio works. In addition, the bulk of Zito’s raunchy roadhouse cry of self-proclaimed machismo, Natural Born Lover, musically feels very much like a cover of Clapton’s 1997 tribute to the Vaughan Brothers, Sick and Tired.

PEARL RIVER is not exactly flawless, but it is a well-produced and fun collection of guitar-driven electric blues, soul and down-home roots rock. Zito is a man of many talents, but he will undoubtedly get even better with a little more time, age and experience. If this album does not bring him the recognition he is looking for, his next one undoubtedly will.

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Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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