Live albums are a mixed bag. The tradeoff between the sonic purity of a studio track and an attempt at catching the energy and spontaneity of live music usually requires some degree of sacrifice. Give up too much audio quality and the music is lost. Hand-pick and prune individual tracks, and the feeling is gone. Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia, in tandem known as Blood Brothers, discover an effective way around this quandary on their newest release, Live In Canada. Recorded in a single night at Blue Frog Studios—an intimate venue that doubles as a commercial recording studio—the album brings listeners a top-flight live album experience without the compromise.
The setlist consists of 10 of the 11 songs heard on the chart-topping Blood Brothers album, plus two more tracks thrown in for good measure. So listeners who loved the studio album can stop reading here and dive head-first into the album.
The Brothers lead in with an energetic “Hey Sweet Mama.” A straightforward rocker filled with warmly overdriven guitar and jangly piano, the cut gives a decent idea of what to expect: good blues rock compositions, searing guitar licks propelled through warmly overdriven amps, and taut instrumental sections. There is also plenty of jangly piano, overdriven organ flares, and other excellent contributions by the band, but the focus is on the interplay between Zito and Castiglia, both instrumentally and vocally.
The slower, brooding, “Tooth And Nail” features some great call-and-response between the vocals and the fills, great guitar tones, and highlights the benefits of playing in a house designed to properly capture them. “No Good Woman” takes a similar approach with its SRV-inspired throb and one of the collection’s wittiest lines, “A no good woman needs a no good man.”
Expertly constructed slide riffs—contradictorily sharp and dirty—drive John Hiatt’s “My Business,” and the alternating tempo changes of “In My Soul” make for two of the album’s best tracks. The imaginative instrumental sections of the latter, along with “You’re Gonna Burn” display the duo’s immense creative talent and technical chops. In a nod to Blood Brothers’s ability to vary their compositions and moods, they seamlessly move from rock, to straight blues, and even dabble in jazz on more the expansive “Hill Country Jam,” that while not for everyone, explores some interesting musically structures and allows the other members of the band to stretch out a bit.
After running through their studio material, the band tackles Zito’s “Gone To Texas.” Building off of a cool, picked-out guitar progression, the uplifting song would have been more than a suitable finale with the fantastic guitar interplay crescendoing in a dual-guitar outro reminiscent of Derek and The Dominoes. Instead, as a gesture to their Canadian hosts, they finish the show with a strong cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World,” replete with the legendary double-guitar phrase of The Allman Brothers’s “Melissa.”
Too often, live albums serve as placeholders between studio efforts, or ill-advised collages of cuts from various epochs in artists’ careers. The inspired choice of Blue Frog Studios allows Live in Canada to avoid these pitfalls and turn in one of the best live albums in recent memory, in concept, song-quality, and sound. If you can’t get to see Blood Brothers in the flesh, this is a worthy substitute.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– In My Soul
– My Business
– You’re Gonna Burn
– Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away
– Gone To Texas
The Big Hit
– You’re Gonna Burn