Mike Zito – Life Is Hard (2024)

Mike Zito – Life Is Hard (2024)

We lost the great Gary Moore some years ago, but Blues-rock is far from dead when people like MIKE ZITO are still playing the trade. Produced by Joe Bonamassa & Josh Smith (both play guitar on the album as well) and including a impressive cast of musicians (like keyboardist Reese Wynans of Stevie Reay Vaughn & Double Trouble), on his new album “Life Is Hard“, Mike Zito unleashes his vocals & guitar with incendiary power.

This isn’t ‘Carnegie Hall blues with cognac’, polished shoes & tuxedos – this is juke joint smoke & Old Crow whiskey in a dalliance with the devil’s jambalaya and Bonamassa & Smith’s great production prowess.
Blues-rock has a funny way of reinventing itself every few decades, but the necessary ‘spice’ is in its rawness & many excellent players do forget that pinch. It’s too clean, too fast, too antiseptic when the songs should be also soulful, lived in & experienced. Here, despite being skillful, Zito retains the necessary pungency of genuine bluesy moisture much the same as some cheese with mold tastes so strong & so good.

“Life Is Hard” is a musical elixir for any blues aficionado who is weary of the too-perfect hairdo & polished nails of many blues performers. “Lonely Man,” & “Life Is Hard,” unravel like barbed wire across a floor where barefoot angels will tread & dance. Too poetic? Nah. It’s just the feelings that run through my mind.
There’s a sensitive element at play that makes this album simultaneously Zito’s most delicate and most determined. Arriving less than a year after the death of his wife, who lost her battle with cancer last summer, ”Life Is Hard” shows Zito throwing himself into his work, embracing blues themes of love and loss while leaning into the healing power of making music.

“Have a Talk With God” and the terrific “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” are a mix of spiritual blues – not an easy road to negotiate but rewarding. He does have this quality on some songs with gospel-tinged fills. The late Roy Buchanan had invoked that cry from his strings (“The Messiah Will Come Again”). It’s simply inspiration & Zito has a surplus. Elevated somewhat from just mere blues this is where the traditional pieces are more easily interpreted as a classical American form. Sample “Without Loving You.”
To add a little intensity Mike perpetuates a plodding haunting sound on Tinsley Ellis’ “Dying To Do Wrong,” with backup voices from another astral plane. It’s superb.

Zito also puts a bluesy spin on the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” in what is one of the album’s more unique and special moments, featuring sad but beautifully sung vocals by Zito with support from background vocalists Jade Macrae and Dannielle Deandrea.

Despite the “Lonely Man” declaration of the album first track, Zito had a lot of support in putting “Life Is Hard” together. In addition to producing the album, Bonamassa and Smith also played guitar throughout and brought in several other musicians to help fill out the sound.
The result is a full-bodied album that embraces the best of the blues-rock. While it can serve as a salve for listeners going through a tough time, it can also be enjoyed simply as an expertly made blues album, one that delivers on what most blue fans are looking for when they seek out great new music in this genre: emotion.
Highly Recommended

01. Lonely Man (3:51)
02. Life Is Hard (4:34)
03. Have A Talk With God (4:34)
04. Forever My Love (6:20)
05. No One To Talk To (But the Blues) (3:01)
06. Dying to Do Wrong (3:39)
07. These Eyes (5:10)
08. Darkness (4:05)
09. Without Loving You (5:21)
10. Nobody Moves Me Like You Do (4:52)
11. Death Don't Have No Mercy (4:16)
12. Forever My Love (4:22)

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