Mike Zito throws all of himself into his music. With Keep Coming Back, Zito & The Wheel has taken Zito’s gritty recipe of blues-rock and country and stirred in a bit more country than in his 2013 release, Gone to Texas, and some classic rock to cook up a strong collection of songs.
A St. Louis native now based in Beaumont, Texas, Zito is a self-taught guitar player whose career, until recent years, was largely a do-it-yourself project. He self-released several albums, including Superman, America’s Most Wanted and Slow It Down, before gaining exposure to a wider audience in 2008 with Today, which was released on the Eclecto Groove Records label. hat was followed by the well-received Pearl River and Greyhound, released by Eclecto in 2009 and 2011. His song “Pearl River,” co-written by Cyril Neville, won the Blues Music Award for Song of the Year in 2010.
Then in 2011, Zito and Neville joined with Devon Allman to form Royal Southern Brotherhood and released that band’s debut album in 2012. In 2013, Zito left the Brotherhood because he said the one-time side project had grown so big it diverted his attention from the blues-country fusion sound he was trying to develop on his own.
Zito has an easy-going demeanor, as evidenced in his laid-back instructional videos. But his firey playing betrays the intense ambition and exacting musicianship that has made Zito one of the true rising stars in blues. That Zito has been through the mill is no secret – in explaining his selection of the title Gone to Texas for his first release on Ruf Records, he said Texas is where he finally came to grips with his drug addition.
In selecting “Keep Coming Back” as the title of this album, Zito stayed with the recovery theme, borrowing a phrase commonly heard at AA meetings to encourage newcomers to stay with the program. Coming from a blues foundation, there are some good blues-rock rifs on Keep Coming Back, such as the opening title tune, “Nuthin’ But the Truth” and John Fogerty’s “Bootleg.” Zito’s crusty blues vocals and passionate guitar playing bring to mind Louisiana blues-rocker Tab Benoit. But on Keep Coming Back Zito stirs in lots of country on songs like the easy-going “Get Busy Living” and the earnest, Bob Seger-like ballad “Early in the Morning.” But the country influence is strongest on the mournful “I Was Drunk,” sung as a duet with his co-writer, Swedish New Orleans-transplant (and frequent Benoit collaborator) Anders Osborne. The upbeat “Girl From Liberty” and a cover of Seger’s Johnny B. Goode-inspired “Get Out of Denver” both contribute to the classic rock tenor of the album. An overwhelming pick of Twangville’s readers just a few weeks ago, Keep Coming Back is another solid collection of memorable songs by rising star Zito.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA and back again.