Artist: Mike Zito & The Wheel
Album: Keep Coming Back
Label: Ruf Records
Release Date: 11/06/2015
Mike Zito and his band The Wheel have consistently shown that the blues is far from the monosyllable idiom that people sometimes assume. While his allegiance to that genre is beyond reproach, given his nomination for 2011’s Blues Music Foundation’s “Best Blues Rock” award, and his winning of 2010’s Blues Music Award for “‘Song Of The Year” with the title track of Pearl River (a co-write with Cyril Neville), not to mention his co-founding of that superb super group Royal Southern Brotherhood, Zito’s never been content to simply follow a single trajectory.
He could be justified if it were any other way; his struggles with addiction and homelessness would certainly give cause to sing the blues and do so from a very real and personal place. Yet, on his brilliant new album, Keep Coming Back, Zito stakes a claim to being not only an expressive purveyor of genuine R&B, but also an accomplished rocker and balladeer as well. Zito sings from the gut as well as true life experience; on songs such as “Keep Comin Back,” “Chin Up,” “Get Busy Living” and, in particular, the autobiographical ballad “I Was Drunk” (a co-write with Anders Osborne), Zito details his past struggles with an honesty and conviction that moots any hint of affectation.
Ultimately, the music crosses a variety of boundaries, from steady rocking blues to more meditative nuances. His choice of covers — a riveting take on the Bob Seger standard “Get Out of Denver” and Creedence Clearwater’s vintage shuffle “Bootleg” — further testify to his versatility. So too, his own “Girl From Liberty” is a hometown anthem that could easily stand with anything procured by Springsteen or Mellencamp based on its scorching sentiments alone. Ultimately then, Keep Coming Back is every bit the testament to tenacity and resilience that its title implies.
– Lee Zimmerman