By Tom O’Connor
Slide guitar fans are, no doubt, eagerly awaiting the April 5th release of slide-master Rick Vito’s Soulshaker album through the Vizztone Label Group. Playing in peak form after an already extensive and award-winning career, Vito’s guitar and voice power this crackerjack 12 song collection with some real heart and soul, making it as much a celebration as it is a showcase for his guitar prowess. Expect to have yourself a good time.
Multiple Grammy nominee, Rick Vito was a member of the supergroup, Fleetwood Mac and has lent his unique slide and lead guitar work to the recordings and performances of artists including Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, John Fogerty, Bob Seger, Boz Scaggs, Dolly Parton, Delbert McClinton, Roy Orbison, Jackson Browne and many others.
Listeners are invited into Soulshaker with the welcoming and likable, “She’s Just Too Fine,” a straight-ahead toe-tapper that Vito’s slide still finds room to swerve around and groove in. In an immediate hint at the range you should expect on this album, the next tune peels off in an almost experimental direction with Eastern sitar-like pulses and rhythms that uncoil slowly like a snake in the moonlight. Rick’s nearly whispered vocals add another layer of hoodoo, which in turn tees up a spooky and effective slide break. This tune especially is a testament to some seriously mature songwriting chops.
We head closer to the bayou on “I Do Believe” with Vito’s testifyin’ vocals and bossy slide both rolling over an insistent Zydeco-inspired rat-a-tat rhythm and dance-worthy bassline. The ominous bad-times blues of “World On Fire” is a sincere howl into the approaching void as Vito wonders “if love will carry us higher” …or not. In his lead break you can feel that internal soul struggle: Give up or fight back? You can also hear what we already know is the answer to that question. After that heaviness, Vito calms things down with the smooth-strolling instrumental “Doggin’ Around” which floats dreamily downstream on fat organ chords and a slow-dance pace, while Vito’s slide subtly explores every open frequency. The tune is a slide master class in slow motion.
We go back to the dance floor for the two-steppin’ “Dancin’ Little Sister.” This light-hearted little gem of Americana-inspired music would be right at home with the best of Nick Lowe. After that little ditty, listeners are in for another whiplash change of direction with the slowed down Bo Diddley beat and thick, ominous voodoo funk of “The Ball And Chain.” With both guitar and vocals, Vito is going to make you feel that dark night of the soul when you realize you’ve gone and chained yourself to something you can’t escape. As you would expect, a boisterous, good-timin’ shout at the devil is the next thing you’re going to hear. “I’m Going To Heaven” is just the double shot of a hand-clappin’, honky-tonkin’ Texas-style blues you need after a brush with the devil.
A little non-traditional drumming and some big, silky chords hold the center for the slow motion instrumental “Soul Shadows.” On this one, Vito’s slide evokes the kind of open spaces that hint at both possibility and menace. We roll back into more city-fied blues with “Walking Shoes” which asks the universal question “Should I stay here on the battlefield or leave it all behind?” and, as is the mark of a pro, Vito just asks the question, he doesn’t try to answer it for you. After all that uncertainty, “Promise Land” is an unashamed ode to one certain thing: that there is nothing both grander and simpler than a good love, properly appreciated.
The album closes with the slow, tremolo-soaked and somewhat mournful instrumental “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Hearing hints of Mark Knopfler at his most introspective, Vito’s slide work on this powerful album-closer builds tension and emotion, not by ramping up the tempo, but instead by pulling you in deeper with every note and phrase. That is a big part of Rick Vito’s musical charm. Never overtly flashy, his ability to make his guitar pop, purr, buzz or howl at will allows for a range of expression by the player, and a range of triggered emotions in the listener, that usually requires the human voice. This album doesn’t just sound good, it feels good.
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