On a midweek Wednesday night May 17, 2023 Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia appeared in Portland, Oregon at the Alberta Rose theater. They were promoting their new album Blood Brothers that they recorded together on Gulf Coast Records, which was founded by Zito. Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith produced the album which they performed in its entirety minus one song. The touring band is the same sextet that recorded the album comprised of two drum kits, bass, keys and two lead guitars and vocalists. Five of the 11 songs on the album are original compositions and they performed 10 of them.
There was no opening band and the show began at 8:00 PM sharp with “Hey Sweet Mama” one of Zito’s compositions from the new album. The first thing that caught my attention was the two drum kits and the sound that they made. There are numerous bands over the past 70 years since the birth of rock and roll that have employed two drummers. The most memorable were the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band and even Los Lobos.
“Tooth and Nail” followed with Castiglia singing lead and Zito doing some slide guitar followed by them both playing in tandem which seemed to be the theme of the band. The song was written by Tinsley Ellis for the Blood Brothers after he saw them perform in Atlanta in 2022. “In My Soul” opens with Zito playing a clangy sound on his McCarty guitar as he sang about needing love in his soul. Castiglia joined in and the two of them played off each other with ascending notes emanating from their axes. Zito wrote the song as a cathartic reaction to the shock he experienced when his wife Laura was diagnosed with cancer in 2022.
“Let the Big Dog Eat” was written by Castiglia and appeared on his 2016 Ruf Records release Big Dog. It had an infectious thumping rhythm driven by drums with Zito and Castiglia pulling out all the stops as they shredded their guitars with Albert singing lead. Zito thanked the crowd for coming out and said that they were previewing their new album Blood Brothers that Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith produced. “A Fool Never Learns” was written by Fred James and released on his 2011 album Blazz. It had Zito singing lead and playing a searing guitar accompaniment. Albert Castiglia explained that one day Mike Zito asked him to do a slower ballad type song since they had enough up tempo ones. He said that the request fulfilled a desire that he’s had since he was a kid to write a broken hearted love song. Castiglia sang lead and played dual lead guitar with Zito on “1000 Heartaches.” “No Good Woman” was introduced as a blues song and it began with a wailing guitar and Zito singing and playing lead while walking from one end of the stage to the other and then to jam with Lewis Stephens on keyboards.
John Hiatt’s “My Business” was performed in a throbbing “riff-based groove” with Zito playing slide guitar and singing lead. Drummer Ephraim Lowell played a tambourine and shaker as the band repeated the groove with Zito and Castiglia singing the hypnotic chorus together. “Hill Country Blues” was a total jam with Castiglia’s stellar guitar accompanying dual drum kits driving beat and then Zito joined in as they played a screaming guitar duet. After the band jammed to the dual guitar solo for over 7 minutes Zito and Castiglia left the stage to bass player Doug Byrkit and drummers Matthew Johnson and Ephraim Lowell. Byrkit did a bass guitar solo for a couple of minutes and then left the stage to the drums that performed for 5 explosive minutes before Zito and Castiglia returned to conclude the instrumental jam with a bring down the house outro.
Zito introduced all the band members and then Castiglia as the recipient of both the “Blues Rock Artist” and “Record” of the year Awards. Castiglia in turn introduced Zito as winning multiple Blues Music Awards. “Tell the Truth” from Derek and the Dominos’ 1970 release Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs followed with the band cooking together with Zito and Castiglia once again jamming in tandem giving Clapton a run for his money. Then Castiglia began playing “You’re Gonna Burn” written by Fred James and Berry Hill singing lead and playing stellar lead guitar. “Bag Me,Tag Me, Take Me Away,” a two stepping dance song written by Graham Wood Drout followed with Castiglia singing lead and leading the band with his searing guitar into an intense jam.
Zito began singing “Gone to Texas” from his 2013 album with the Wheel. Between verses he and Castiglia stood center stage and shredded their guitars together to the continuous driving rhythm. Zito told the crowd goodnight and thanked them again for coming out and explained that they had to drive across the country from the East Coast for tonight’s gig as they broke into what sounded like “Jessica” briefly by the Allman Brothers. The band began to exit the stage as the crowd screamed, whistled and stomped so Zito came back to the mike with the band following and said, “alright we’ll give you one last song,” as they began playing “Keep on Rocking in the Free World” with Zito singing lead from Neil Young’s Freedom album. Zito and Castiglia pulled out all the stops as they jammed together on their guitars with the band in tow. The entire show lasted for nearly 2 hours of amazing guitar driven showmanship backed up by a stellar band.