Tony Campanella’s long-awaited debut album, Taking It to the Street, delivers a terrific set of varied and genuine songs. The band expertly walks the delicate line between traditional blues forms and more modern sounds owing as much to guitar rock as they do to Campanella’s blues influences. The collection of originals, and a few select covers, exhibit a rare blend of technical ability, imagination and unfeigned sentiment that the St. Louis native has been living and sharing for most of his life.
“Taking It to the Street” wastes no time crashing into the album with punchy drums and an austere guitar riff. A slightly flanged vocal track gives the song a sleek, rock-feel, while the solo provides listeners a taste of the guitar fireworks to come. Accompanying the groove is Campanella’s credible claim that, “I’ve been playing this here guitar, since it was my only toy.” The following tune, “Pack it Up,” opens with a mellower, rotating-speaker guitar tone that displays Campanella’s ability to use the instrument not only as an emotive vehicle, but also as a tool to construct diverse soundscapes. “One Foot in the Blues” continues the trend towards slow and soulful, marked by an echoey guitar sound reminiscent of Dire Straits’s, “Brothers in Arms.” Campanella allows himself space to stretch out in a couple excellent guitar passages, but it is his passionate singing that makes the song one of the album’s best tunes.
A trio of blues classics comprises the midsection of the collection. The band’s interpretation of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” elaborates on the original song with a thick guitar and bass combination that lets Campanella showcase his virtuosity, playing in unison with the verse and independently on the instrumental breaks. On Eddie Vinson’s “Mr. Cleanhead,” Campanella pokes a bit of fun at his follicularly-challenged appearance, but his playing reminds that it is what’s in the musician’s head that is important, not what’s on his head. Wrapping up the triad is a straightforward, shuffling version of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Checking on My Baby.”
“Texas Chainsaw,” a darker, haunting number, vies for the album’s best track through it’s swampy pacing and raw sounds. The drum and bass tandem pull the song along, allowing overdriven guitars and vocals to oversaturate the purposefully, unpolished mix, which includes the resultant static. Traded guitar licks alternate stereophonically as Campanella convincingly sings of “Deep down in Texas, to a place I’ve never been.” The band concludes the selection with the gospel inspired “Those Are the Times.” The piece’s softer, Leslie guitar tone and prominent organ show yet another dimension of Campanella’s blues vision.
Taking It to the Street, covers a lot of ground in just eleven cuts. The outstanding guitarwork takes center stage, but it’s Campanella’s authentic and soulful voice, combined with the backing band’s musicianship that create an immediately enjoyable album. After a couple listenings, blues fans will be hoping that they need not wait as long for the follow-up as they did for this great first effort.
The Review: 7/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Taking It to the Street
– Texas Chainsaw
– One Foot in the Blues
The Big Hit
– Taking It to the Street
Review by Willie Witten