Mike Zito & The Wheel – Keep Coming Back

Ex-Southern Brother returns with a set of roots’n’blues

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Singer, songwriter and guitarist Mike Zito didn’t put his ascendant solo career on hold when he co-founded the roots’n’blues supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville and Devon Allman. Instead, he applied his immense musical talents to both, resulting in a pair of acclaimed RSB studio albums as well as his first LP with The Wheel, 2013’s Gone To Texas. Touring the world with both bands, however, would make even the best man crack under the pressure, so Zito bowed out of the Brotherhood in late 2014 to focus on his solo work.

Zito returned to Dockside Studio in Louisiana with The Wheel to record Keep Coming Back. The album features seven new Zito originals and three songs co-written with fellow bluesman Anders Osborne, as well as a pair of cover tunes guaranteed to singe the hair from your ears. Zito stepped back from the board this time, placing the album’s production in the capable hands of Trina Shoemaker (Grayson Capps, Brandi Carlile). Zito takes his flirtation with Americana a step further here, infusing his traditional blues-rock ‘bang’ with more than a little ‘twang.’

Squealing guitars and locomotive rhythms open the raucous title track, Zito bending the strings to the limit as drummer Rob Lee blisters the skins. There’s more than a little country in the grooves here, but it’s Zito’s sandpaper-grit vocals and razor-sharp fretwork that make it memorable. By contrast, Get Busy Living is an earthy slab o’ southern rock with a definite Marshall Tucker Band influence, especially within Zito’s rich, melodious guitar lines and the band’s jazzy rhythms. Early In The Morning is the best country song Nashville’s hacks never wrote, Zito displaying both heart and soul on the gentle, mid-tempo rocker. Zito and Osborne duet on the acoustic country-blues I’m Drunk, both men singing from a place of world-weary experience on the semi-biographical tale; it’s a stunning, low-key but powerful performance by both, with some tasty filigree guitar-play.

Zito’s cover of Bob Seger’s Get Out Of Denver captures the spirit of the Motor City rocker’s original, the band’s revved-up performance, driven by Lewis Stephens’ honky-tonk keys, sounding like burning rubber and engines racing. Ditto for their reading of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bootleg, the song provided a fatback groove and undeniable swamp-blues vibe. Zito’s Girl From Liberty showcases his talents as a storyteller, his vivid lyrical imagery matched by a fierce, muscular roots-rock sound with a bluesy undercurrent… and that’s the way it is with Keep Coming Back, the album a brilliant mix of rock, blues and edgy country that takes Mike Zito down new and exciting roads.