American Showplace Music

It could be said that blues and jazz are the wholly American flipsides of the freedom coin—one side, more emotional where the other, more cerebral; both indicative of a free life, fully lived. And it is a full house of freedom which Bruce Katz and his musical family build through these luminous new blues.

Criminally-underrated blue-chip guitarist Chris Vitarello steams back into the fold after being off the road for several years, and his return—with his Kenny Burrell meets T-Bone Walker via Buddy Guy guitarisms—is welcome. One of the finer joys of this album is the reunited three-piece interacting with themselves as much as the guest list, which includes part-time BKB member Jimmy Bennett, who shares guitar duties with Vitarello on nearly half the album, adding gritty vocals and sweet lap steel. The Band’s co-drummer/vocalist Randy Ciarlante imbues his “King of Decatur” with swampy NOLA funk, while the timeless John Hammond evokes the once-bustling road houses with a classic pair, which also features past BKBassist Marty Ballou on marvelous upright. Peter Bennett, brother of Jimmy, adds tasty electric bass, especially on the touching “Amelia.”

Glued together by the spotless, warm production of Ben Elliott at Showplace Studios, this album is a sharp reminder that magic is preserved as much as captured. Yet, for all the guest power, the gravity of this mood indigo comes down to the core trio—Vitarello and long-serving-also-underrated percussive dynamo Ralph Rosen swinging and cutting around the Namesake himself. And on a song set that charms with plenty of magic moments, one cannot overlook Bruce himself; commanding endless classic sounds while carrying many of the basslines with a gifted, sensitive left hand, Katz has dug in his heels and thrown down a gauntlet by which many records should be compared. For Katz is a man who loves this music as if sung with native tongue, and these are the full-figured blues of a spirit whose voice is a free music, (wonder)fully played.