With the tragic, unexpected death of Sean Costello, the blues world lost a guy I and others thought was the Next Big Thing in that idiom. The good news is that there are still others out there working hard to put their own stamp on the blues with a level of passion and prowess that approaches Costello’s. One of those guys is St. Louis’ own Mike Zito.
Zito didn’t enjoy the early career boosts that the late child prodigy got, but he’s certainly paid his dues over the years. Whether it’s been touring across the nation, aboard with notables like Walter Trout as part of the USO show, or back at home in St. Louis for shows six nights a week, Zito honed his brand of soulful, funky blues. He’s created his appealing, wide-ranging sound by distilling into it bits of Hendrix, Van Halen, Vaughan, Clapton, B.B. King, and even more contemporary artists like John Meyer. Several years ago, Zito won his battles with subtance abuse and being cleaned up gave him renewed vigor and focus toward his music.
Today, released on May 20, marks another big step forward for Zito: while it’s his fifth release, it’s the first with a bonafide record label, Eclecto Groove Music. Eclecto Groove must be a big believer in Zito, because they not only signed him, but they provided him with a crack crew of musicians that includes Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt) and Tony Braunagel (Raitt, Taj Mahal). Overseeing the making of this record was the top-shelf production team of David Z, Tony Braunagel and executive producer Randy Chortkoff, the label chief.
One listen to Today is all you need to understand why Chortkoff made the investment in Zito. Zito is a fully-developed triple-threat as singer, songwriter and guitar player. Fully confident of his songwriting abilities, twelve of the thirteen tracks are his own. They’re varied, smartly paced and showcase both his soulful throat and his Clapton-Vaughan hybrid axe playing equally well.
Zito’s tunes aren’t the twelve-bar types of blues, they’re thoroughly modern but still blues at its core. “Blinded” is a fine example of both Zito’s knack for catchy blues-y melody tasty guitar chops. Another standout is his deft use of octaves and Eddie Hinton emoting on the mid-tempo “Holding Out For Love.” “No Big City” is a jazzy, Santana groove. “Hollywood” is just good old school horn-driven funk. For some gut wrenching dirty low-down blues, check out the autobiographical “Slow It Down.”
The cut selected for the album’s first single is “Love Like This,” a mainline blues-rocker that exhibits Zito’s passionate singing and guitar playing, tempered with a touch of R&B tenderness.
Oh, and the one non-original? A creatively mellowed out unplugged version of Prince’s hit “Little Red Corvette.” The connection? David Z produced another one of Prince’s big hits, “Kiss.”
Says Chortkoff: “There is something in Zito’s music that went straight to my heart that goes way beyond his incredible talent as a musician…it’s that his music has such a message of positivity and hope. That’s universal, and when you pair that up with music that appeals on so many levels simply as great contemporary music, it makes Mike Zito a guy who truly deserves to be heard.”
Today — with Today — is the time for a broader audience to discover why Chortkoff is so deadgummed excited to have Zito on board.
Here’s Zito performing a live version of “Holidng Out For Love” in front of a hometown crowd: