Albert Castiglia,
Keepin On
(Blues Leaf, 2010)

South Florida guitarist Albert Castiglia (ka-steel-ya) plays fat, tough, heavily amped chords in his version of late-model blues. Nothing unusual about that, of course. It's the lingua franca of a genre that, at least on its electric side, sounds these days as much like a kind of rooted rock -- those roots sometimes no deeper than 1970s Southern rock-and-boogie bands -- as the sort of downhome folk music that blues used to be. You can hold the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix ultimately responsible in a good way or in a bad way, depending on how you feel about these things, but they were bound to happen regardless, and we live with them. The question before us now is how effectively they're accomplished.

The answer on Keepin On, happily, is well indeed. No blues pretender, Castiglia knows the music intimately, and so he knows when to ramp it down. He ramps it down, too, on more than just a couple of nicely executed acoustic tunes, which include his own romantic "Sweet Southern Angel" (which contains a brief but surprising lyrical allusion to the traditional "900 Miles") and Robert Nighthawk's not quite so loving "Murderin' Blues," played and sung with sufficient authority that one can almost imagine them on a mid-century Alan Lomax field recording.

Not quite everything on the electrical side is on full throttle, and even when it is, Castiglia isn't wasting a whole lot of notes, which is where the artist gets separated from the annoyer. His masterly readings of T-Bone Walker's "My Baby is Now on My Mind," John Lee Hooker's "Goin' Upstairs" and Peter Green's "Could Not Ask for More" will warm any blues-lover, even a thin-skinned one. He's an engagingly gritty singer, too.

Fundamentally, Keepin On succeeds because of Castiglia's manifest musical/literary intelligence and his imposing taste in material. The album kicks off with the hard-driving "Cadillac Assembly Line," composed by Mack Rice, a working man's tale of woe as soulful as Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues" (which is not a blues, by the way). He revisits the theme on his own original title song three cuts later. Unlike many of its modern-blues contemporaries, the CD usually feels more grounded, where real blues ought to be, than atmospheric.

Castiglia also reminds me that Bob Dylan once wrote something called "Till I Fell in Love With You," which frankly I'd forgotten. (It's on his 1997 Time Out of Mind.) Castiglia makes it his own, causing this listener to reflect that the man has drawn all the right blues lessons from Dylan. There isn't much about Dylan one could call "under-appreciated," but if there is, it's his skills as a bluesman. Castiglia is among the relative few to have picked up on that, just one more of his unexpected virtues.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 September 2010

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