11 songs; 56:58 minutes; Quality: Love at First Listen
Style: Electric Blues with no horns
How do you rate and judge an album? One valid method is: how many listens did it take until one liked it? This method is based on my belief that one will like almost any music after five listens. If not, then six exposures will not help, and one will never like it. So, top rated CDs are the ones you enjoy and relate to with just one listen. Loved-it-upon-my-first-listen makes Albert Castiglia’s third album (second on Blues Leaf) my pick for best album of Jan – May 2008, on its way to album of the year. (Pronounce the 38-year-old’s name “ka-STEEL-ya”)
Two other measures cemented These Are The Days’ top position: (1) my wife also immediately liked it upon first listen as we were on a road trip – and she is fussy! (2) there are no horns in this blues album. I must confess my bias here: in too many blues CDs the added horns have as much business being in there as a football bat does in an NFL game. If Muddy Waters didn’t need them, I don’t either. (Ok, I can be fussy, too.)
Right from the opening single string guitar notes of track one, “Bad Year Blues,” the mood is up in this original 12 bar shuffle, and the album is happening. Humorous lyrics, underpinned by delicious slide guitar, don’t hurt anything either, “...my new year’s resolution didn’t last too long / tried to quit smokin’ but too many thing went wrong / it’s been a real bad year / only twelve more months to go.” At two minutes, Susan Lusher takes a perky piano solo followed thirty seconds later by a Castiglia slippery slide guitar solo. The rollicking fun and story lyrics continue to an ending that left me smiling a big, “hot damn!”
The second number features blistering guitar solos in a funky version with of Robert C. Guidry’s “He’s Got All The Whiskey.” Castiglia’s wonderful blues vocals have been compared to Van Morrison, but that comparison is probably a disservice to Albert. Drummer Bob Amsel and bassist Steve Gaskell expertly hold down the beat while Lusher pours out a cascading piano solo to round out the four piece band.
Just as the smoke begins to clear from the CD player, the first notes of the third track slowly emanate, reassuringly giving the listener’s racing heart a break. “Loan Me A Dime” is simply the best version of the Fenton Robinson song since a young Duane Allman joined Boz Scaggs in the Muscle Shoals studio May 5, 1969. Now that is a testimonial in itself!
Bouncing right back with an up tempo number, Ken “Stringbean” Sorensen blows harp to open track four, “Godfather of the Blues.” The original song is a Castiglia tribute to his mentor, Junior Wells, for whom Albert played guitar and sang for two years, 1997-1998, up until Wells’ death.
Track five, the title track, is an acoustic change of pace. The mid-tempo ballad features more Sorensen harmonica and was written by Graham Wood Drout (of Iko Iko) who has contributed a song to each of Castiglia’s albums. Previously Drout contributed “Ghosts of Mississippi” and “Big Toe.”
A cover of “Night Time Is The Right Time” has all the right ingredients to please, especially the background vocals of Sweet Suzi Smith and Nicole Hart. Bob Dylan’s ode to baseball pitcher Catfish Hunter (“Catfish”) is another slow blues performed so well that it is nearly as good as “Loan Me A Dime.” The rather pedestrian “Another Bloody Day” keeps the album from perfection, but the jumping, original “Twister” puts thing right back on top.
The CD ends with the love-at-first-listen slide guitar found at the beginning on the band original “Blues For Evan.” Ending the CD up tempo with harmonica thrown into the 12 bar mix was a good move.
Wake up world! His name is Albert Castiglia, and he is burning the planet down! The fire has begun down in his current region of Florida, but this CD will propel Albert to festival stages galaxy-wide!
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL