Mike Zito/Albert Castiglia
(Gulf Coast Records)
4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
What’s better than one veteran blues-rocking guitarist working at the peak of their powers? How about two of them?
That’s the deal as Mike Zito and road warrior buddy Albert Castiglia, both headliners in their genre, join for this debut as musical collaborators. The album’s name reflects a similarly titled Spring/Summer of 2022 tour. It finds the bluesmen already locked into a sympathetic partnership that live shows and roadwork together often create.
Joe Bonamassa’s presence helps too. He, along with longtime associate Josh Smith, both not coincidentally guitarists, co-produced this set and their expertise is evident. They provide space for these two guitar slingers to work their magic without cluttering up the sound.
The songs—five originals with the remainder obscure, well-chosen covers—allow the guys to swap and combine vocals without either hogging the spotlight. That sense of camaraderie speaks to Zito and Castiglia’s “blood brother” relationship. More importantly, this isn’t simply a showcase for a bunch of solos, regardless of how well they are executed. Rather these blues/roots tunes, energized by expert playing, stand as above-average songs even without the fiery fretwork.
From the slow, oozing swamp of “You’re Gonna Burn,” and the opening Stones-y rocker “Hey Sweet Mama,” to the horn-enhanced soul with gospel backing vocals of “Fool Never Learns” and “Tooth and Nail”—the latter donated by fellow journeyman Tinsley Ellis—a large swath of territory is covered while staying true to the rugged, bluesy arena. They lock into a tough Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled Texas shuffle with Zito’s “No Good Woman” and grind out an animated, riff-based groove in John Hiatt’s deep track, “My Business,” where they join voices on the chorus between spitting out sizzling six-string fireworks.
Those looking for guitar bangers can rejoice in a seven-minute, appropriately titled, “Hill Country Jam.” The disc’s lone instrumental brings some Allman Brothers Band Southern grit to the program.
If there is a logical single, it’s Castiglia’s “A Thousand Heartaches.” The sensitive, acoustic-based ballad is boosted by a soaring melody, touching lyrics (I guess I’ll just die slowly by a thousand heartaches), a heartfelt vocal, and perfectly placed backing gospel voices. A Bonamassa lead brings it home.
Unlike similar alliances, Blood Brothers balances unusual restraint along with the respect Zito and Castiglia clearly have for each other’s talents. It’s evident in every performance on this initial studio pairing which hopefully will lead to future releases further expanding a terrific collaboration.