Showing posts with label Lewis Stephens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lewis Stephens. Show all posts

Saturday, May 16, 2020

#445 : Albert Castiglia - Wild and Free

2020 – Gulf Coast Records 

By Phillip Smith; May 16, 2020

Albert Castiglia’s prowess as a guitarist never ceases to amaze me.  He is one of my go-to artists when I really want to hear my blues sizzle.  His latest album Wild and Free definitely cooks.  Produced by Mike Zito and recorded live on January 3rd and 4th, 2020 at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, Florida, this recording features guests John Ginty, and Lewis Stephens with Zito himself making an appearance.  Castiglia’s rhythm section is comprised of bassist Justine Tompkins, and drummer Ephraim Lowell.  They sound great, and they’re tight as hell.    

Castiglia kickstarts the album with a furious, intense rush by leading off with “Let the Big Dog Eat”.  Stephens adds a delightful taste of soul on B3, while the others keep it funky.  The momentum continues to build with “Hoodoo on Me”.  Castiglia’s fearless, blues-soaked vocals are perfectly fit for his attention-grabbing guitar licks.  Then “Heavy” gently rolls in on this big mellow wave.  This beautifully written and executed song about life itself is one of my absolute favorites.  I also adore their eight and half minute colossal jam on Paul Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup” with Ginty on B3.  I can’t help but smile when Castiglia and the guys dive in to Johnny Winter’s “Too Much Seconal” with both Ginty and Zito stepping in for some old school blues.  This is what it’s all about.  “Boogie Funk”, another bodacious eight and half minute jam, brings things to a lively close with a riveting performance and plenty of searing guitar action. 

To fill the void in these times in which live music is not available, Albert Castiglia’s Wild and Free is exactly what I need to hear.              

For more information about the artist, visit this website..

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon Store.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

#443 : Tyler Morris - Living in the Shadows

2020 – Vizztone

By Phillip Smith; May 2, 2020

I’ve been a fan of Tyler Morris since reviewing his 2018 album Next in Line.   He continues to push the envelope when it comes to mastery of guitar, and his latest release Living in the Shadows is testament to that fact.  Backing Morris on this album is bassist Terry Dry, drummer Matthew Robert Johnson, and Lewis Stephens on Hammond B3 and Wurlitzer piano.  Produced by Mike Zito, this fourth release from Morris also features a remarkable guest list comprised of Ronnie Earl, Joe Louis Walker, and Amanda Fish.  

Morris pours out some magnificent blues with a terrific cover of Don Nix’s “Everybody Wants to go to Heaven”.  Zito and Walker both take the mike on “Polk Salad Annie” while Stephens lays down the rich sounds of B3.  Morris absolutely sizzles on guitar.  The notes weightlessly float through the air with “Temptation”, a beautifully executed original.  Amanda Fish, whose music I adore, is guest singer on “Better Than You”.  This riveting Suzi Quatro-esque blues-rocker was penned by Zito and co-founder of Gulf Coast Records, Guy Hale.   With “Young Man Blues”, Morris pays homage to the artists and musicians who gave him inspiration over the years.  Ronnie Earl provides additional guitar on the song, and it sounds great.  Morris infuses a tremendously infectious riff fortified with stellar licks on “Taken From Me”.  This one has a way of coaxing me to turn the volume up.  The record ends with the heavy, rocking blues of “I’m on to You”, another smokin’ original.  Hearing him rip it up on guitar is a sheer delight.

Living in the Shadows is a rock-solid album loaded with blazing guitar performances.  Morris’ playing is downright amazing. Thanks to younger blues artists like him, the Blues will be around for quite a while longer.


For more information about the artist, visit this website :

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon Store.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Friday, November 22, 2019

#418 : Mike Zito and Friends - Rock ‘n’ Roll : A Tribute to Chuck Berry

2019 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 22, 2019

This latest release from bluesman Mike Zito is a mighty stellar tribute to the legendary ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ Chuck Berry.  Being that both Zito and Berry are from St. Louis, Missouri, makes this a very personal project.  Zito, backed by his band, bassist Terry Dry, drummer Matthew Johnson, and pianist/organist Lewis Stephens incorporates a smashing guest list on this twenty track album, which includes some of my favorites: Joanna Conner, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, Luther Dickenson, Sonny Landreth, Tinsley Ellis,Tommy Castro, Albert Castiglia, and Kid Anderson.

The album begins with one of the first songs I learned to play on organ, William C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”.  This song which I hold close to my heart features Chuck Berry Jr.  It’s such a rocking version of the song, and ushers the album in quite nicely.  I love the cover of “Rock & Roll Music” with Joanna Connor.  She’s such a powerhouse of a guitarist, and brings a lot to the table on this one.  Walter Trout shines as he always does on “Johnny B Goode”.  Damn, this one rocks!  Robben Ford steps in to record a fantastic remake of  “You Never Can Tell”.  This one will always remind me of my favorite film, Pulp Fiction.  The legendary Eric Gales punches up another favorite “Back in the USA” with a huge dose of his ripping guitar-work.  I always appreciate what Luther Dickinson is involved in, and “Too Much Monkey Business” is no exception.  I love “No Particular Place to Go” with Jerimiah Johnson.  This one really resonates.  Sonny Landreth brings a certain smoothness to “Havana Moon”.  I could listen to this one all day long.  

Being a huge fan of Chuck Berry and Mike Zito, this album has such a hold on me.  It’s downright spectacular.


For more information about the artist, visit this website..  

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon Store.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. St - Louis Blues Charlie Berry III

  2. Rock N Roll Music - Joanna Connor

  3. Johnny B - Goode - Walter Trout

  4. Wee Wee Hours - Joe Bonamassa

  5. Memphis - Anders Osborne

  6. I Want to Be Your Driver Ryan Perry

  7. You Never Can Tell - Robben Ford

  8. Back in the USA - Eric Gales

  9. No Particular Place to Go - Jeremiah Johnson

  10. Too Much Monkey Business - Luther Dickinson

  11. Havana Moon - Sonny Landreth

  12. Promised Land - Tinsley Ellis

  13. Downbound Train - Alex Skolnick

  14. Maybelline - Richard Fortus

  15. School Days - Ally Venable

  16. Brown Eyed Handsome Man - Josh Smith/Kirk Fletcher

  17. Reeling and Rocking - Tommy Castro

  18. Let It Rock - Jimmy Vivino

  19. Thirty Days - Albert Castiglia

  20. My Ding a Ling - Kid Andersen

Sunday, July 29, 2018

#344 : Vanja Sky - Bad Penny

2018 – Ruf Records
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 28, 2018

Vanja Sky, one of the newest blues artists to join the Ruf Records family, takes no prisoners with her brand new album Bad Penny.  It was just five years ago, this former pastry chef from Croatia picked up a guitar, and in the moment, she knew that being a musician was her destiny.  Within two years, she was in a band touring Croatia, Slovenia, and Germany.

Recorded at Bessie Blue Studios in Statonville, Tennessee, and Studio Erde in Berlin, Germany, Bad Penny features Mike Zito on rhythm guitar, Terry Dry and Dave Smith on bass guitar, Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott on drums, and Lewis Stephens on piano/organ.  She also enlists the legendary Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Steve Miller, Miles Davis) to take on the tasks of engineering in Tennessee, along with Tobias Noethen who engineered the tracks recorded in Germany. 

Vanja rocks out on a killer cover of Rory Gallagher’s “Bad Penny” for the title track.  Her voice is strong and fearless.  Her guitar licks are terrific.  I get totally swept up in Zito’s outrageously infectious riffs.  The blues are smokin’ with lots of great slide on “Low Down and Dirty”, which includes Bernard Allison alongside Vanja and Zito.  It’s downright bodacious.  

Shining brightly as a songwriter as well, Vanja penned ten of the dozen tracks on the record.  Tender and poignant “Inside Pain” seems to float in mid-air in a beautiful performance.  She totally rips it up on “Give Me Back My Soul”, a Texas style blues rocker with a theme most familiar to blues enthusiasts. It’s a favorite indeed.  Like a Lucinda Williams tune, “Crossroads of Life” digs its fingernails in deep and packs a wallop of that great swampy sound of country blues. It’s brilliant.

Searing guitar licks along with Vanja’s amazing vocal stylings make Bad Penny one hot album, enjoyed start to finish with every listen.  Vanja is currently touring with Mike Zito and Bernard Allison on the Ruf Records Blues Caravan.  This is one show I don’t want to miss.      


Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Albert Castiglia - Up All Night

2017 –Ruf Records
Release Date : Oct 6, 2017

By Phillip Smith; Oct 14, 2017

Albert Castiglia is definitely on a roll. He pulls no punches on his latest album “Up All Night”.  With an all-new band consisting of bass player Jimmy Pritchard and drummer Brian Menendez, Castiglia again enlists Mike Zito to produce, help write, and toss some of his trademark guitar and vocals into the ring.  Also making appearances on this magnificent blues-rock album are music masters Lewis Stephens on keys, Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, and Johnny Sansone on harmonica.

Castiglia presses the pedal to the metal, as he lays a long trail of rubber on “Hoodoo on Me”.  Penned by Zito, this heavy-hitting blues-rocker rides a thick relentless bassline and showcases Castiglia’s guitar mastery.  Smattered with a slough-full of funky psychedelic licks, his cover of Brian Stoltz’s (funky Meters) “I’ve Been Up All Night” is engaging and groovy.  Landreth’s slide guitar on Castiglia’s tale of outrunning a hurricane in “95 South” is marvelous and swampy, just the way I love it. 

Included in this recording are a couple of outstanding songs from Graham Wood Drout (Iko Iko) who Castiglia collaborated with in 2006 on a record called The Bittersweet Sessions: “Three Legged Dog” and “Knocked Down Loaded”.  Both have the unique gift burying themselves in my head for hours on end.  I love Castiglia’s nitro-charged take on Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson’s “Woman Don’t Lie”.  It’s a sizzling delight.   

Castiglia won me over with his previous album, “Big Dog” which I reviewed in June of 2016.  I remember thinking how tough it was going to be for him to top that album. He did though.  “Up All Night” is absolutely wonderful and has set a new bar. 


The PhillyCheeze review of Albert Castiglia’s Big Dog album  > 
Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Albert Castiglia - Big Dog

2016 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; June 25, 2016

I’ve always enjoyed hearing Albert Castiglia play the Blues, but there is something about his latest album, Big Dog, that grabs ahold of me and just latches on.  Castiglia surrounds himself with extremely talented musicians: bassist Scot Sutherland, drummer Rob Lee, and Lewis Stephens on keys & piano.  For the icing on the cake, Mike Zito also performs on guitar and produced the album as well. 

Castiglia enters the album guns-a-blazing, holding back nothing, lobbing immense and intense guitar licks as if grenades on a battlefield, in the monster opening track “Let the Big Dog Eat”.  Castiglia advises promising musicians that hard work is the key to success in the song, “Get Your Ass in the Van”.  He lays down lots of sweet killer slide guitar on this original track, while satirically making his point, singing “This ain’t no American Idol.  There ain’t no more deals being made at the cross-roads.”. Castiglia then goes deep on his four-star cover of Luther Allison’s “Drowning at the Bottom”.  I can feel the blues oozing from his pores as he beautifully plays this soulful tear-jerker. This is my absolute favorite.  Stephens’s organ performance adds a cool Allman Brothers vibe on “Let’s Make Love in the Morning”.  This soulful, feel-good song puts a smile on my face with every listen.             

Big Dog is so hot and electric; it is pretty much an instant classic.     

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mike Zito & the Wheel - Keep Coming Back

2015 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 26, 2015


Mike Zito is quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters.  His lyrics have a way of connecting with the working class, and the music to which they are delivered is a splendid dose of rock, blues, and Americana. The Wheel consists of a stellar group of musicians: bassist Scot Sutherland, pianist Lewis Stephens, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, and drummer Rob LeeKeep Coming Back contains ten magnificently written and performed originals along with a ripping cover of Bob Seger’s “Out of Denver” and a funky take on CCR’s “Bootleg”.   

Stephens and Carpenter dole out tasty barrelhouse piano and rocking sax on title track “Keep Coming Back” as Zito kicks out the jams on guitar.  This one is one big ball of bluesy fun. 
I love easing into the day, listening to “Early in the Morning” on my way to work.  Zito’s raspy vocals remind me a lot of Rod Stewart's.

A true master at telling stories through this music, Zito delivers the goods with “Girl From Liberty”, which takes a closer look at the grim underbelly of dysfunctional family life.  This song sits atop my list of favorites.  Zito then digs deep inside his soul to share the destruction and aftermath resulting from his battles with addiction, in the heart wrenching “I Was Drunk”.  There’s an anxious energy surrounding “Cross the Border”, a chaotic tale of reckless abandon.  It surely leaves me hanging on the edge of my seat as the story unfolds.    

Whether he’s performing his own songs, or one of the covers, Zito keeps it real and keeps it interesting.  That’s what I love about his music.    


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mike Zito and the Wheel - Songs From the Road

2014 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov 8, 2014

Mike Zito and the Wheel played a live gig at the Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX to a sold-out crowd on January 10, 2014, and fortunately recorded this exciting event for our enjoyment.  Songs From the Road captures the essence of Zito, with an extraordinary set list of past favorites, some older and some newer, boasting five tracks off his most recent studio album, Gone to Texas.

The funky “Don’t Break a Leg” opens the set.  Rob Lee stands out as the fantastic drummer he is, and Jimmy Carter tears it up on sax.  Of course, it probably goes without saying; Zito’s guitar playing is amazing. I love the bands performance on “Hell on Me”. This one has an ominously groovy rhythm which is very pleasing to the ears.  Again, Zito, simply put, cooks when it comes to playing guitar.  Other tracks from Gone to Texas include “Rainbow Bridge”, “Subtraction Blues” and title track, “Gone to Texas”.

I’m so glad “Greyhound” made the cut for this album.  It’s classic rock in the same style as Jackson Brown and Bruce Springsteen. The band sounds big, with Jimmy Carpenter belting out blasts from his sax, and Lewis Stephens pounding the keys.  I’m also glad Zito’s cover of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” made the cut.  Although, the song sounds totally different than the original, this cool little song still maintains an Eighties vibe to it, in a “St Elmo’s Fire” kind of way.  It’s definitely a treat to hear.

Mike Zito and the Wheel score big with Songs From the Road.  He really is an amazing artist, and it shows on this album.