Midwest blues rocker, Mike Zito, has released his 13th career album, and it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart. Make Love Not War, on the Ruf Records label, sounds, from the title, that it could be a politically charged answer to the mayhem that has been 2016. Far from it, the album invites us to shut down all the harrowing news of the world, and focus, instead, on some old-fashioned pleasures of great music. “We hear about everything 24/7 now,” says Zito. “The news never stops and its all become propaganda. But when you turn off the news and turn on some blues, the world is a beautiful place. I think music is the cure for all ailments. Always has been. Always will be.”
Produced by GRAMMY winner, Tom Hambridge, and recorded at Sound Stage Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, Make Love Not War, begins with a combination guitar assault. The duality of filthy lead and crystalline slide, provided by Zito and guest, Walter Trout, on “Highway Mama,” grabbed us right by the short hairs. As the song takes off, Zito’s vocals are a controlled scream and the tight, live feel, of the band kick into the next gear without a clutch.
This is, quite possibly, Zito’s most energetic album to date. Its a fine combination of upbeat shuffles, slow grinds, and personal experience. Combined, they make the strongest case for the genre being called ‘blues rock’ and not the other way around. The blues comes first on this release, as it should.
The band, made up of producer, Hambridge, on drums, Tommy MacDonald on bass, and Rob McNelley on guitar, sound as if they’re playing live, in your favorite club or living room. This stands to reason, since the entire album was recorded live in the studio, with as few takes as possible. You can hear, in the music, just how much fun the band was having recording it. Special guests include Trout, pianist Kevin McKendree, the insane harmonica prowess of Jason Ricci, and Zito’s own son, Zach Zito, who records with his dad for the first time here.
The song, “Chip Off the Block,” is a blues biography of the younger Zito, in lyric form, and features Zach, providing some blistering guitar work of his own. We can’t think of a better way to be introduced to the blues world.
The hot, smoking tracks, “Crazy Legs,” and, “Route 90,” almost defied us to keep up, while the smoldering “Girl Back Home,” and “Bad News is Coming,” led us right to a contemplative sit-down. No stranger to life on the highway, Zito provides us with the funky, “On the Road,” and then five tracks later, adds the wistful, “Road Dog,” which Zito, himself, describes as, “the most serious tune on the album.” He continues, “I know it can seem clichéd sometimes, but it’s the life I lead. I miss my family, miss my wife, but this is what I do. I always leave.”
For our money, the finest tune of these original dozen, is the title track. This is pure, Chicago blues with Ricci’s harp channeling what sounds to be the entire Chess and Delmark stable of classic harmonica styles. We listened to this one several times, with a brand spanking nuance appearing each time.
Overall, Zito’s voice is stronger than its been on previous recordings. The lyrics are personal, and simple, with a hint of double entendre thrown in at just the right times. His guitar work is spot on, being grungy where it needs to be, and wholly unburdened.
The only reason for folks to not be listening to this album, right now, is because they don’t own it – yet.
Album: Make Blues Not War
Label: Ruf Records
Release Date: November 18th, 2016
Running Time: Approx. 54 minutes