february 2011

Tom Principato
Powerhouse Records

Now into his fourth decade as the majority party in the Washington, D.C. blues scene, guitar master Tom Principato has hit a real high water mark with his new album, A Part of Me. That’s saying something, because this fellow has won enough WAMMY (Washington Area Music Association) awards in his career (22 all told) to warrant building an extra addition onto his house, if he hasn’t already. What we get on A Part of Me is pretty much all shades of electric blues, the tender and the tough, the funky and the hard hitting, on the first album of all-original songs Principato has ever released.

If you sense a heightened feeling in his soloing—for one, think the tenderly expressed, introspective ruminations he engages in up and down the neck in the lyrical, Latin-tinged instrumental, “Back Again (& Gone”)—and, if it’s possible, a bit more soulful grit in his singing (a special treat is the deep, warm feeling he brings to his love song “Sweet Angel,” a midtempo shuffle lent an extra measure of heat by guest Chuck Leavell’s rich B3 support), credit it to this album’s subtext, a dedication by Principato “to loved ones lost, who will always be a part of me.” To that end, he has never been better than on “Part Of Me,” a beautiful soul ballad seemingly addressed to a lost love (“melancholy is my name/’cause I’ve only got myself to blame,” he laments) but may well be a poignant remembrance of all those loved ones lost; either way, the song elevates to a loftier, even spiritual plane as Principato opens a vein and lets his pain rush out, and the band builds to a southern soul howl, fueled by Tommy Lepson’s robust B3, an exquisitely surging horn section led by the Memphis Horns’ Wayne Jackson, and Principato’s own stinging, aggrieved guitar punctuations, with the whole endeavor given ballast by the infallible rhythm section of Willie Weeks on bass and Jim Brock on drums.

Tom Principato Band, from the Raising The Roof album. Live at the State Theater, Falls Church, VA, December 2007

On the point of getting a little outside help, in addition to the redoubtable Leavell (who also gets it going in “Down In Lou’siana,” a tasty Crescent City celebration spurred by Principato’s wailing opening solo, wherein the second line cooks with righteous fervor), Principato also enlists Sonny Landreth, who gets the album off to a rousing start with a bruising slide monologue to open a fiery but wrenching breakup tune, “Don’t Wanna Do It,” which also happens to find a spot for Leavell’s B3 and piano amidst its thunder and grind; and his bandmate in a side project, the January Allstars, shows up to add some breezy, buoyant, jazzy organ commentary to the instrumental “Down The Road,” and that would be one Brian Auger, whose presence is most welcome here and anywhere else he wants to play (the Weeks-Brock rhythm section is funking it up here, too)—all this is mere prelude, though, to a wonderful solo flight by Principato, which combines lean, lyrical lines with muscular chording and noting in a marvelously textured outpouring of feeling and technique. Clocking in at slightly under 40 minutes, only eight songs total, less truly is more in the case of A Part of Me, as one of the fine blues artists of our time makes each moment memorable, indeed, often touching. His own band and his assembled guests more than rise to the challenge the material presents, and the artist in question makes sure we know this is no mere exercise but rather cuts close to the bone of what matters to him.—David McGee

Tom Principato’s A Part Of Me is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024