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Music Review: Albert Castiglia – These Are the Days

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2006 was a banner year for Albert Castiglia (pronounced ka-STEEL-ya), heralded by his critically-acclaimed and heavily spun A Stone’s Throw. Mixing a diverse repertoire of blues and roots covers with his savvy guitar licks, Castiglia was heavily spun on the airwaves and started receiving a lot of national attention outside of his native Florida. Castiglia has been a regular woodshedder on the blues circuit in the South East since the pasting of his mentor and boss Junior Wells. However, his second effort here on the Blues Leaf imprint is helping him continue to take his star up and up.

Much of the same formula of Throw is present on this second disc for the label but more refined and better tuned. Not to diminish the passion of the last record, this one takes all those raw passions and channels them into a guitar/vocal hurricane that is neither another sound in the blues-rock paradigm nor another hard luck blues player. Castiglia’s overly ripe slide playing and whiskey drenched vocals come off more polished and national-stage ready. In other words, Castiglia isn’t just another chitlins circuit player with a recording contract. He can deal out heavy, rough and ready biker room blues or smooth, gin soaked ballad-type blues all at the switch of his humbucker. These really are the days for Castiglia to take off.

The very first track “Bad Year Blues” is a prime example of a rough and tumble shuffle that’s equal parts Chicago juke and biker bar blues. Not to mention, a very wry wit in the ironic lyrics. This one is my personal favorite on the album as it hits below the belt and isn’t going to apologize. Just listen to the non chalant, matter of fact emotional delivery of Castiglia as he doles out the best line: “It’s been a bad year only 365 days more to go.” He keeps you on the high energy side with the definite party crowd pleaser from Cajun Bobby Charles’ “He’s Got All the Whiskey.” Perfect for his raspy vocals, this zydeco blues is just pure fun. Taking a page out of the Duane Allman/Boz Skaggs sessions, Castiglia repeats their version of “Somebody Loan Me A Dime.”

Being as I’m a fan of the Fenton Robinson original, I’ll admit my prejudice against this version. However, the fact that Castiglia is willing to tackle giants like Allman with his slide playing shows his true grit and talent. The fifth track, from friend Graham Wood Drout (who’s contributed at least 1 song to every Castiglia solo effort), represents a bit of the spoils system on Castiglia’s part. Sadly enough, this is the weakest link on the album, handing out some optimistic folk-rock that puts the album slightly off kilter. It also seems a little forced and more of a favor to a friend than emotion that Castiglia identifies with.

Next, Castiglia takes on the lexicon of Atlantic Soul in Ray Charles’ “Nighttime is the Right Time.” This version here is more similar to the Creedence Clearwater Revival version than Brother Ray because of Castiglia’s hard power on the guitar. With a little bit too much polish around the edges for its own good, this special guest song (Sweet Suzi Smith and Nicole Hart on Background Vocals) sounds more like fun with his friends than the hard hitting first portion of the album.

Castiglia steps back and takes a deep breath and delves into the bluesier side of Bob Dylan with “Catfish” and brings a creepy story-telling ambience to the song about the first millionaire baseball player Jim “Catfish” Hunter. At over six minutes, this one might lose your attention a little bit but it’s a good testament to Castiglia’s powerful story-telling abilities through voice and arrangement. Castiglia needs no interpretation on the politically driven lyrics of “Another Bloody Day.” Casting an angry eye at the establishment, you can hear how critical Castiglia’s voice and guitar get on the subject matter of war and bloodshed. Delivering a truly powerful message similar to his mentor Junior Wells’ “Vietcong Blues,” Castiglia shows he’s no mere minstrel to the blues but is a world-educated songwriter who’s also trying to keep the world aware of itself. Next, Castiglia takes a stab at the Little Willie John via Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac “Need Your Love So Bad.” Truly showing off his command on vocals and guitar at the same time, this song is a great summation of the continually brewing talent Castiglia continues to offer with each release. Guest Rio Clemente also turns in some truly churchy organ, adding even more soul depth in this great cut.

“Twister” is another fun party song with some more great work on guitar by Castiglia. A fun little three minute shuffle with great interplay between Castiglia and label partner Ken “Stringbean” Sorenson on harp round out the disc on “Blues for Evan.”
Castiglia, as I’ve said, has shown more shine and polish on this release with some increased songwriting output. The originals here are some of the strongest on the album and far outshine the covers with the exceptions being the updates of Bobby Charles and Little Willie John here. If Castiglia can master some more good song choices on his follow-ups, he’ll continue to win more fans on the national stage.

This one has sure fire airplay ability and will have no problem finding its way to your ears. His accessibility to all crowds is one of his strong suits and, with continued efforts in masterful songwriting he will be accessible to many more… possibly a BMA nod? With his solid road band continuing to support him, Castiglia has the days in hand and he needs to continue to seize the moment with guitar in hand and emotive vocals and lyrics.

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