From the first chord to the last, the guitar master Tom Principato’s latest studio release, “A Part of Me,” is a winner in every sense.
Made up of all-original material written by Principato himself, the album offers considerable cross-over appeal with the elements of blues, rock, R&B, and funk present in good measure. The songwriting is strong throughout and shows a gifted composer at work, from creative and delightfully varied melodies that are free of clichés to thoughtful and story-telling lyrics.
Tom Principato’s music is all heart and soul, and “A Part of Me” is a particularly potent example of that, translating into music some of the most deeply felt life experiences. And after 40 years of playing roots music and touring all over the world, Principato brings to this album an impressive prowess and versatility on both his guitar and vocals and is obviously still very much in love with his craft, playing and singing every note as if his life depended on it.
In addition to Washington, DC, area’s finest talent that makes up the Tom Principato Band, helping make this album shine even brighter is a star-studded cast of collaborating artists, which include Chuck Leavell (organ/piano, Rolling Stones), Willie Weeks (bass, Eric Clapton), Sonny Landreth (slide guitar), Brian Auger (keyboards), Jim Brock (drums), and Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns.
The album kicks off with the fiery, bluesy, and very catchy “Don’t Wanna Do It”, which quickly became one of my favorite songs of all time. The guitar work is an absolute bliss and a real show stopper. With the backdrop of Chuck Leavell's organ and piano and a thunderous rhythm section, Tom Principato and guest slide guitarist Sonny Landreth together make sonic fire, taking turns delivering guitar solos and fills so scorching that I wouldn't be surprised if one day I blow out my speakers listening to this song loud. Those gorgeous guitar tones -- the weeping fluidity from Sonny and the fat growl coupled with string-bending goodness from Tom -- make me feel like I can never play this song quite loud enough. The lyrics are simple, conveying so effectively the heartache and the disappointment of a relationship gone wrong, and Principato's singing could not be a more perfect fit to this music. This song also became an instant hit with my father, who is a fan of Robben Ford and the classic ZZ Top rock-n-roll sound.
The title track, “Part of Me” (You’ll Always Be a Part of Me), which is hands down the most soulful song on the album, is also bound to hit the airwaves and become an R&B crossover favorite. With its slower ballad style and deeply personal lyrics, it hits you like an emotional freight train, projecting all the years of yearning, missing, pain, and let-downs. And the depth of delivery matches in spades the depth of the lyrics. Tom Principato’s vocals tug at your heart strings, and his guitar work is so melodic and intense that it could only come from a place deep down in his soul. Contributing to the soulful sound of this song are Tommy Lepson on organ and a horn section featuring Wayne Jackson of Memphis Horns, with the rhythm section handled by guests Willie Weeks on bass and Jim Brock on drums.
With the exception of “Stranger’s Eyes” Parts I and II, which maintains the deeply bluesy spirit of the title track, other songs take the mellower, more relaxed approach and serve to diversify the album's mood. “Sweet Angel” is dedicated to that special person in your life and is rockin’ and upbeat, punctuated by tasty workouts by Principato on guitar. “Down The Road” is a funky instrumental shuffle featuring Brian Auger on the keyboards; the song has an improv feel to it, very much relaxed and dreamy and full of different twists and turns. “Back Again & Gone” is a bluesy instrumental over a jazzy samba groove that inspires romantic reflections and finds Tom Principato doing some very fine jazz-style picking. “Down in Lou’siana” pays tribute to the great city of New Orleans in an upbeat rockin’ style that the Tom Principato Band does so well, complete with tasty bass lines by long-time associate Steve Wolf and thunderous “second line rhythm” by the drummer Joe Wells, invoking the feeling of a New Orleans marching band.
To make sure that this album is put together to his own and his collaborators' satisfaction, Tom Principato co-produced it with his long-time recording engineer Bob Dawson of Bias Studios, and they succeeded in capturing this powerful music in true high-fidelity sound that is full-bodied, rich, and warm. Album packaging, bearing beautiful and numerous family photographs taken over the years by Tom’s dad, who was a professional photographer, punctuates just how personal this work is to Tom Principato.
In the end, after around 40 minutes of music, “A Part of Me” makes a strong and staying impression with many memorable moments and reasserts Tom Principato's acclaim as one of the finest guitar players in the world. His intensive touring schedule has taken him all over the map in the last 40 years, including countless tours of Europe and playing with people like Sunnyland Slim, Big Mama Thornton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and yet he's constantly striving to improve. This recording is a true milestone of his long and exciting career, of which he has every right to be proud. In the world that's becoming filled up with sampled, over-produced music that lacks the soul and the talent, this album is as organic and honest as it gets, in the grand tradition of the 60s and 70s era that bore some of the very best American music.
Content disclosure: As the author of this review, I reserve the right to post the entire review or parts of it on other websites, for example Amazon. Thus, the content identical to or derived from this review and published on other websites under monikers "Denis", "jazzman77", or "D.S." does not constitute plagiarism of this review or vice versa. Contents of this review were published here before they were published elsewhere.
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