Good Mornin’ Blues
Blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, bandleader and now retired teacher, Joe Zuccarello (Joe Zook) is now nearing almost five decades playing in various configurations. Here he leads the ensemble Blues DeLuxe, with a full three-piece horn section, a group comprising nine members. Zook, based in Trenton, NJ, is member of the state’s Blues Hall of Fame and his been a fixture in the local scene since the 1979. Sometimes he performs acoustic solo or in a duo with his good friend and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Plumeri––the “Bishop of The Blues,” legendary guitarist Ernie White who co-produced and engineered much of this album, or the renowned harpist Steve Guyger. Joe and Blues DeLuxe have shared the bill with Blues and R&B greats from Junior Walker and the All-stars to Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy. His “All I Can Hear Is The Blues,” was nominated in 1987 for a W.C. Handy Award as “Best Blues Single of the Year.”
This is no-nonsense blues played by close cohorts including longest term member Billy “Blues Boy” Holt on bass and vocals, and fellow rhythm section partner drummer Jeff Snelson. Keyboardist James Cheadle is an educator who has a recording history with Columbia Records. While Cheadle plays a piano in the Pinetop Perkins style, John Sopko adds the Hammond B3. The horn section consists of alto saxophonist Angelo DiBraccio, who has recorded with Roberta Flack; versatile reedman Steve “Barry Sacks” Kaplan, and trumpeter Danny Tobias. Blues harpist Tony Buford contributes on three selections and Big Franky adds mandolin to one.
This is a mix of Chicago blues and horn-driven blues in the mode of early R&B stylists like Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Veteran Zook and his mates have a deep understanding of the blues. They are not breaking new ground but keeping it real, keeping it traditional as it should be. Eight of the ten are Zook originals with the classics “Caledonia” and “Same Old Blues” rounding out the set. We hear Zook’s piercing slide guitar, Budford’s harp and Cheadles’ rollicking piano on the Chicago-styled twelve bar opening title track. “I Love My Baby” is an R&B styled shuffle with Sopko on the B3 and Kaplan with a bari sax turn. The slow burner “Wait and See,” a standout, has one of Zook’s best vocals augmented by his stinging guitar lines, ensemble horn support, and a soulful DiBraccio solo. The faithful rendition of “Caledonia” has the big, throaty vocals from Holt as does the other cover, “Same Old Blues.”
“Where Did It Go?” is another slow burner, a humorous paean to old age. Zook is at his vocal best on these kinds of blues. “it Ain’t What You do” is a juke joint hell raiser complete with Cheadles’ barrelhouse piano and slashing leads from Zook. The horn, harp-driven “Take Me Back” brings gritty old school blues with Hendrix’s line “scuse me while I kiss the sky” thrown in for good measure. “On My Mind’ is a clever acoustic tune that begins calls out North Korea, Ol’ Mother Russia, Ol’ Mexico, and the USA too, featuring Big Franky on the mandolin solo. The close with the horn drenched rave-up, “I Got Nothin’ to Say,” featuring Cheadle at the electric piano dialoguing with Zook’s leads, while the horns chip in with economic solos.
Joe Zook and Blues Deluxe do it the right way; bringing unadulterated blues. For those who say, “it always sounds better with horns,” this one’s for you.
- Jim Hynes