Review: Mike Zito & The Wheel – Gone To Texas

Posted on: Thursday, Jul 11, 2013


Mike Zito & The Wheel – Gone To Texas

(Ruf Records: RUF 1189)

Here’s one of this year’s best releases so far from the super-talented Mike Zito – a brilliant guitarist, fine singer and writer who hails originally from St. Louis, before he boarded a Greyhound bus, leaving his family behind, and got off in Texas, thus beginning a period of huge change in life that dealt with drug addiction and was helped by the love of a good woman. He now has a string of top-notch solo albums to his name, and is of course part of the acclaimed Royal Southern Brotherhood.

On “Gone To Texas” he loosely ties together the ‘dark’ period of his life and coming out the other side in the songs, in the company of his own band, The Wheel, who comprise, apart from Zito on guitars and vocals: Jimmy Carpenter (saxophone, vocals, percussion), Rob Lee (drums), Scot Sutherland (bass), Lewis Stephens (Hammond B-3 and piano) and Susan Cowsill (vocals). Texas roots legend Delbert McClinton contributes a vocal, and the great Louisiana slide player Sonny Landreth also appears.

The music here covers a broad spectrum of rootsy roadhouse rockers, some blues and soulful flavours and all with Mike Zito’s impressive rasping voice to the fore, and his tasteful, but never overdone, guitar work. The music roars in with the rousing title track, “Gone To Texas”, with some soaring saxophone from Jimmy Carpenter, who is quite excellent throughout, and some tough guitar work from Zito, underpinned by Lewis Stephens Hammond B-3; on the following “Rainbow Bridge” the distinctive slide guitar work of Sonny Landreth dominates on this swampy roadhouse rocker, with the joint vocal of Zito and Susan Cowsill in perfect harmony.

The co-write with Royal Southern Brotherhood colleague Cyril Neville, “I Never Knew A Hurricane” is another treat – a mid-paced song, with the keyboards of Stephens and vocals of Cowsill again featuring, along with a delightful saxophone solo from Jimmy Carpenter. The pace is taken down for the sparse “Death Row” – just Zito’s vocals, Dobro and kick drum, as they create a Delta blues storm  – inspired by meeting a man when he first moved to Texas who visited people on ‘Death Row’ in the state’s prisons. “Don’t Break A Leg” rides on a nice funky groove, co-penned with drummer Rob Lee, with him and fellow rhythm section member Scot Sutherland  locked tight as Mike Zito and Lewis Stephens add nice solos.

The afore-mentioned Delbert McClinton’s soulful “Take It Easy” is covered in fine style; before the man himself is featured on a co-write with another Royal Southern Brotherhood member, guitarist Devon Allman . . . . the crunching Texas roadhouse rocker, “The Road Never Ends” . . . some uncredited harmonica here, which I presume is also McClinton, together with trademark tough vocal and brilliant slide guitar from Mike Zito.

Elsewhere the quirky “Voices In Dallas” is a tale of drink and drugs hell, something that thankfully Mike Zito has overcome now. The personal tale of wrong-doing and then redemption is told in the fine country-flavoured “Wings Of Freedom” – dare I say sounding a little bit like The Eagles? “Gone To Texas” ends in stripped-down fashion with a glorious rendering of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel-like “Let Your Light Shine On Me”, as Zito pours his heart and soul into it, just accompanied by his acoustic guitar. A memorable ending to a highly recommended album.


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