2008-05-06Tom Principato is one of those musicians who has won countless awards in his region of the country (in this case the Washington D.C. area) but has for the most part failed to click with national audiences. As the winner of 22 Washington Area Music Association “Whammy” Awards for his numerous discs as well as his prowess on guitar and vocals he is clearly doing something right. While one would be tempted to chalk off this impressive track record as “a big fish in a small pond” anyone familiar with the music scene of the Potomac knows that it is not only intensely competitive but is where the North meets the South with gritty rock from Boston, Jersey and New York clashing head on into both big band sophistication and southern soul blues producing a musical hybrid that doesn’t really exist elsewhere. Jump blues bands like Big Joe and the Dynaflows play alongside guitar innovators like the late, great, Danny Gatton or hard rocking guitar slingers like Jimmy Thackery and his former band the Nighthawks. Ironically, this musical diversity is both a blessing and curse for someone like Principato. On the one hand, his mastery of the numerous styles of blues necessary to play alongside these varied performers has given him a rich and varied career. On the other hand, it has kept him from having a clearly identifiable sound like, say, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Buddy Guy and is likely the reason his name doesn’t evoke knowing nods outside of his home base. Simply put, he’s too diverse to be easily slotted into a neat blues category. This disc won’t change that with its inclusion of everything from reggae grooves, "In the Middle of the Night", to guitar and horn driven blues, "Lock and Key" to straight out funk with a dollop of greasy organ, "Too Damn Funky", to roots rock by way of J.J. Cale’s, "Lies", and even a bit of Jump blues with a reworking of Louis Jordan’s classic "Fish Fry". While it is the top notch musicianship that will keep this disc in rotation, the hilarious "They Called for “Stormy Monday” (But “Mustang Sally” is Just As Bad)", where Principato name checks the songs every working musician dreads to hear called out in the middle of a set, (Freebird anyone?) is alone worth the price of this disc. Each of these cuts is well done, but the overall mix is more a musical juke box than a blues disc leaving blues fans with the uneasy choice of abandoning their comfort zones in the Delta, Chicago, Memphis or Texas in order to take a chance on someone unique. The shame of all of this is that unadventurous blues fans are left out in the cold with no clue what a treat they are missing by not taking Principato’s discs for a spin. Take a chance. You’ll agree this disc is worth the adventure. Smitty
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