Mike Zito & The Wheel: Gone to Texas Review

Blues as a genre has never experienced a lack of technical skill.  Unlike radio-pop, which often substitutes instrumentation and performance-quality for auto-tune and synthesized music, or indie or country, which make up for simple instrumentation with ambitious/emotive or experimental structural compositions, blues has consistently valued technical skill as the basis of its being – be it with guitarists who can melt your face off or with singers who will forever be better than you or anyone you know.  Mike Zito, as any true bluesman should, has both of these traits mastered. Vocally outstanding and equipped with a Fender Stratocaster, Mike Zito is an artist who’s already established himself with three albums and an award from the Blues Music Awards in 2009 for “Song of the Year” for his sophomore album’s title track, “Pearl River.”  Understandably, and perhaps unfortunately, with every rung on the ladder conquered there comes a greater pressure to deliver.  Zito’s fourth album, titled Gone to Texas, feels like it’s struggling against the pressure.

Of course, the technical skill is still present on Gone to Texas.  Zito croons and screams, and his Stratocaster does the same.  Zito’s previous albums, however, had an earnestness to them not present on his 2013 release, and perhaps a bit of a darker tone than you’ll find on Gone to Texas.  2009’s blues song of the year, for example, built a tension that it refused to fully release.  On Gone to Texas, Zito fails to recreate any of that tension.  On the album’s opener and title track, “Gone to Texas,” Zito constructs a song that is clearly meant to feel as wide and open as the Texas landscape.  The problem is that it doesn’t really connect.  It feels too light, and doesn’t really lead anywhere.  Much of the album follows similarly.

A few tracks stand out, providing some much-needed dynamic.  “Death Row” follows in the Texas theme with a slide guitar and a simple stomping rhythm played out with a kick drum and a tambourine.  Mike Zito’s vocal performance stands out against the music’s minimalistic approach.  “Don’t Break a Leg” combines a soulful, funky approach with humorous lyrics: “I’m gonna promise to be more sensitive / Baby, try to be a little more sensuous.”  And “Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty” just surges with an energy that comes seemingly out of nowhere.

Ultimately, Gone to Texas isn’t a bad album – it just lacks anything seriously memorable, save a handful of tracks.  In a genre full of technical skill and as the legitimacy of the world of underground music continues to grow, it takes a little more than solid guitar work moulded to a 12-bar structure to make a record stand out.  For a casual listen, Gone to Texas is excellent, but if you’re looking for an album with definite replay value, you’d best move on.

The Review: 6.5/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty
– Death Row
– Voices in Dallas

The Big Hit

– Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty

Review by Richard MacDougall

Buy the album: Amazon | iTunes

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