Rod Piazza & the Mighty
After an almost three year recording hiatus, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers are back with a new record, Keepin’ It Real, a new label, Blind Pig, and two new members. Henry Carvajal takes over guitar duties from Rick Holmstrom and Paul Vincent Fasulo assumes the drummer’s seat in place of Steve Mugalian. The rest of the band remains with the always smiling Mr. Bill Stuve thumping away happily on the upright bass and the lovely Miss Honey massaging the piano with her one of a kind dazzling panache.
The title of this jewel was chosen because it reflects what the music contained within is all about, and is as close to a live night of blues as one can get. Most of the 13 tunes were done as first takes with the only polish being the band’s countless nights performing together and feeding off one another’s performances; in other words, the way it should be. This could have very easily been a live album, as it portrays this already legendary band doing what they do best, which is playing some gut busting blues like every tune is going to be their last. The only thing missing is the live audience. A great deal of the tunes here have been in their live set for a few months and are now recorded for posterity, with quite a few being covers of some very familiar numbers and given treatments that stay as close to their roots while still being given the Flyers own special signature.
The ball gets rolling with “Big Blues Party,” a funky original strut that introduces all each of the members of the band, and slips seamlessly into a wicked rendition of ”Good Morning Little School Girl,” on which new guitarist Henry Carvajal twangs out some very impressive chops alongside Rod’s squealingly delicious harp phrasings.
A barrelhouse version of ”Baby Please Don’t Go” raises not only the intensity level but also the bar by which other artists attempting to cover this classic piece in the future will be judged to monumental proportions. The same can be said for the following number, “Just Like A Woman,” that features Miss Honey tickling out some jazzy riffs from the 88s while Rod delivers the tongue in cheek lyrics with a noticeable smile in his voice that leads me to believe that this piece might be a personal favorite of his.
A bone-shaking version of Willie Dixon’s “Pretty Thing” is next, with Rod ripping through the harp licks like a runaway freight train with no brakes. Guitarist Carvajal brings not only a pretty mean axe to the table but also a most impressive set of pipes that contribute to the smooth harmonies of “Tick Tock” and step to the forefront of the blistering “Ain’t Nothing Happening.”
“Moving In A West Coast Way” is a snappy original that I can easily see becoming this magnificent band’s anthem/theme song, as it is rich in sentiment and just plain kicks butt, cranking out high energy blues, Flyers style, in a no-holds-barred romp. You can pretty much say the same for a cover of the traditional ”Ain’t Nothing Shakin’,” with Rod blasting the roof off with some fiery licks.
On the original instrumental, ”West Coast Midnight Blues,” it’s rather difficult to pick out a standout performance, as the entire band ignites for five minutes of some of the most passionate blues you’ll ever hear. This piece is one hot tamale, folks. Carvajal climbs so high into the register that you would think he would need an oxygen mask; Miss Honey sounds like she grew another hand on the piano, Rod sprouted another lung, Stuve grew four more fingers and Fasulo probably busted a few drum while heads recording this one. When I say hot I’m not kidding.
The final three tunes are numbers that have been recorded before, but receive glorious updates here. The first is “Buzzin,” which first appeared on 1991’s Blues In The Dark, and is a duet showcase for the incredible keyboard talents of Miss Honey and drummer Paul Vincent Fasulo for a ten-minute opus that will leave you twitching with pleasure. I thought the original with then drummer Jimi Bott was quite good, but this reworking sort of just plain runs it over.
“That’s What She Hollered,” a bright and fun little ditty, and “Devil’s Foot,” a moody instrumental harp exploration, both appeared in 2001 on Kid Ramos’ Greasy Kid Stuff; after listening to the two side by side, these versions are the way they were intended to be heard. Like fine wine (oh geez not that old analogy again!), Piazza and the Flyers continue to get only better with age.
Keepin’ It Real is exactly what its title implies --- a real down to earth, soul shaking blues experience from one of the greatest blues bands the modern era has known.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
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