2023 Wrap Up Part 2: Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia, Johnny Winter and more

We finish up our 2023 recap with five more releases that we weren't able to tell you about when they first released. They are some of 2023's best!

Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia - Blood Brothers Live in Canada

If you've ever seen Zito or Castiglia in concert you know that their guitar playing is even hotter live than it is on record. Put them together live and, wow! This recording presents what is essentially a live take on the pair's early 2023 Blood Brothers release along with a couple of cuts not from that album. The show starts with "Hey Sweet Mama, a Chuck Berry-type rave-up that the guys could do Chuck's famed duck walk to if they chose. The guitars play in tandem Southern rock style on the Tinsley Ellis cut "Tooth and Nail" while "In My Soul" has a vibe similar to Kenny Wayne Shepherd's "Blue on Black," and the pair delve deep into the blues for "Fool Never Learns." Other highlights include the strutting "No Good Woman," a take on John Hiatt's "My Business" and the boogie-ing "Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away." Zito's "Gone to Texas" from the 2013 album of the same name comes at the end of the show as does a take on Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," a perfect cut for the two guitar slingers to hit their stride.

Johnny Winter - The Johnny Winter Story (The GRT/Janus Recordings)

This 2-CD set brings together more than 30 early Johnny Winter cuts, the majority of which were originally released on various compilations in 1969 and 1970. This era is before Johnny started earning his reputation as a guitar god but there's plenty of hot riffing here, including on the blues of "Ease My Heart" and the instrumental groove "Creepy," both Winter originals, as well as an inspired take on James B. Oden's "Going Down Slow," a blues where Johnny shines on acoustic guitar. But much of the collection is not blues, rather it is R&B, or Southern soul, and emphasizing Winter's vocals more so than his playing. Standouts in this vein include versions of James Brown's "Out of Sight," Hank Ballard's emotional "Stay by My Side," the Bo Diddley rave-up "Road Runner" and Winter originals "I Can't Believe You Want to Leave" and "Oh My Darling." This look at Winter's early days allows fans a great opportunity to track his development and includes a take on the holiday chestnut "Please Come Home for Christmas" done in a soulful mood. Winter passed away in 2014.

Bob Corritore & Friends - Phoenix Blues Rumble

Corritore is a Phoenix-based blues harp player, club owner and radio personality and he has an extensive archive of recordings that he's been digging into on a regular basis lately. This compilation features him performing with a who's who of singers who also have lived and worked in the Phoenix area, including Chico Chism, the drummer and blues shouter who, like Corritore, worked in Chicago before relocating to Arizona. Chism's self-penned "Big Fat Woman 480 LBS" kicks off the album; Chico isn't knocking the gal's weight, to the contrary he refers to her as a "big sexy woman" and the song is fun to sing along to. Chief Shabuttie Gilliame growls out his original "Come to Me Baby," King Karl rocks through the Chuck Berry-ish "Walking in the Park" and waxes soulful on the R&B of "Mathilda" while Dino Spells hits his stride on the strutting "Jennie Bea" where Johnny Rapp shines on guitar while Corritore honks a Hohner solo mid-song. George Bowman takes a couple of turns at the mic including on the smoky "I Was a Fool," Tommy Dukes sings and plays guitar on the "where's my baby"-themed "Real Bad Day" while Corritore's harmonica commiserates, Dave Riley sings his "Laughing Blues" and Sugaray Rayford handles vocals on the lyrically-amusing "The Glide," which at nearly seven minutes is the longest cut on the offering. Longtime Phoenix favorite Big Pete Pearson closes the record with his self-penned "I'm Evil," another cut about a straying woman.

Popa Chubby and the Beast Band - Live at G. Bluey's Juke Joint NYC

This 2-CD set finds guitarist and singer Popa Chubby and his band in fine form as they rip through a generous set of 19 long songs. The show begins with a take on Neil Young's "Motorcycle Mama" but more than half of the set consists of original blues rockers like the simmering "Dirty Lie," the appropriately raucous "Dirty Diesel" and the 14-minute groove of "Grown Man Crying Blues" where Chubby has lots of room to solo. Covers performed in the first half of the set include a scathing take on the Jimi Hendrix-associated "Hey Joe," a surf rocking interpretation of "Godfather Theme (Speak Softly Love)" and surprisingly, a soulful reading of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow." Among the best originals in the second half of the show are the boogie of "I Don't Want Nobody," catchy instrumental "Steel Horse Serenade" and the self-explanatory "Sweat," one of the best vocal turns that Chubby takes here. More covers include an interpretation of Leonard Cohen's oft-covered "Hallelujah," a sensual, guitar heavy take on the Tom Waits chestnut "Heart Attack and Vine" and a set-closing romp through the Rolling Stones hit "Sympathy for the Devil."

Johnny Rawls - Walking Heart Attack

Singer Rawls puts his dulcet tones to great use here, beginning with the title cut which is his own co-write. The song is an appreciation of a woman's charms, physical and otherwise, set to a sensual groove complete with saxophone and cooing background vocals. Rawls sounds fine on a cover of "Trying to Live my Life Without You," the soul oldie that Bob Seger had a hit with in 1981, and on his own "Free," a declaration of independence of sorts from a guy who doesn't need much to live a rewarding life. Having fun with a forbidden love is the subject of "One More Sin" where Rawls portrays a man who's just fine with the relationship. Amusingly the cut is followed up by "Lies" where the man's squeeze is causing him to doubt; both songs about infidelity are Rawls co-writes with band bassist Bob Trenchard. Keys man Dan Ferguson tickles out the piano intro on a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" and Rawls wraps up the record with Trenchard's "Mississippi Dreams," a hopeful cut about a potential reunion with a lover.

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