Gaetano Letizia & The Underworld Blues Band ~ Voodoo Doll & Other Blues Lessons”

CD Review – April 2014

Blue Barry – Smoky Mountain Blues Society

 

Here is a blues, jazz, funk, soul, but absolutely wonderful new CD for you guitar lovers.  Gaetano “Tom” Letizia & The Underworld Blues Band have a new CD out called “Voodoo Doll & Other Blues Lessons.”  Tom Letizia is an extraordinary guitar player.  Transcending many styles of playing to get out what he wants to play. With a killer band, and 12 originals, Gaetano just unloads his fabulous guitar skills.  Playing over 40 years, studying jazz, blues, classical, and other styles of guitar he can do anything on the instrument.  Looks like he cut his first album in 1981, and has continued to grow and give his music to us.  Tom studied music composition at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, and is a Certified Berklee College of Music PULSE system teacher.  Tom is for real!  The new CD “Voodoo Doll & Other Blues Lessons” is a monster guitar CD.  His band is fabulous and compliments everything Tom does.  He has outstanding musicians, outstanding compositions, and just the whole package.  Great listening, compelling, make you think music.   Tom can sing, songwrite, play slide, electric, and acoustic guitar with ease.  Yea, it’s bluesy, but it’s also jazzy, and funky without going over the line of being too much.  Just the right amount.  Check him out at gaetanoletizia.com.  You can find him on facebook, and buy his CD on CD Baby.  This is a guitar players’ guitar player.  Really good, classy stuff!  Nothing in a hurry, but everything gets done.  Well done in fact.  Enjoy at your extreme leisure.  One Love, blue barry – smoky mountain blues society

 

 

I just received the newest release, Voodoo Doll & Other Blues Sessions, fromGaetano Letizia and the Underground Blues Band and it is really quite interesting and different. Opening with Big Foot, a fine jazzy instrumental romp featuring Letizia on guitar, Larry Keller on bass, Jake Tijerina on keys and Steve Renko on drums Letizia establishes a pretty high watermark for the rest of the release. Keller lays down a really nice bass solo on this track and overdriven guitar work from Letizia is way cool.Title track, Voodoo Doll, maintains the funky jazz rhythm with cool slap and pop bass work from Keller. More of a pop (Steely Dan) style track, Letizia adds some warm vocal work but it's his tasty guitar overlays that makes this a super track. Kill My Conscience continues along the pop jazz track with more of a BST kind of attack but without horns. The Devil Is A Nice Guy is funky pop track with a bit of sarcasm. Blending vocals with Ro Brown and popping with his jazzy guitar riffs through a closed wah, this track moves along pretty well. Tijerina lays out a cool organ solo on this track but the bass work of Keller and smokin drumming of Renko are right on. Sold My Soul maintains the jazzy funky beat but with some more adventurous guitar work...a bit looser jam. Hurt Myself is a slick shuffle tune with lead vocals by Bobby Huszar and a nice walking bass line by Keller and a cool hook. Slowing down the track takes on a bluesy turn for a nice conclusion. Bleed is a funky rocker with a strong guitar / drum interaction. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the release just base on it's overall flow. All I Need is an acoustic jazz number with some swift riffs.Blow The Blues Away has a real pop edge but is sharpened by some really slick guitar moves and strong bottom work from Renko and Keller. Torture Me is a bluesy ballad with Letizia doing vocal exchanges between his vocals and guitar. Very nice mix in triplets. Orange Sunglasses opens with a very cool bass riff. Building on this bottom the band creates a cool funky jam. Opening up later in the track as a wide open relentless ride, Tijerina lays down a smooth organ field. Wrapping the release is a quiet blues track called Big Secret. With a jazz edge, Letizia puts up some of the hottest guitar riffs on the release. This track morphs back and forth between a slow club blues and a faster paced shuffle track, but really a nice finish to a different take on the blues.

GAETANO LETIZIA & THE UNDERWORLD BLUES BAND/Voodoo Doll & Other Blues Lessons:  Blues/rock, lite rock and roots meet up in Cleveland under the hand of guitarist Letizia who looks like he’s got the years under his belt to appreciate them all and is enough of an entertainer to fuse it all into a nice thing people want to hear.  A dandy, easy rolling record bottomed by real talent, he knows his ax inside and out in a relationship that has blossomed over 50 years.  Tasty stuff sure to be appreciated by any listeners that don’t need to follow fashion.  Check it out.

Clevelander Letizia treks the trail blazed by guitarists such as Robben Ford and Chris Cain, fusing blues and jazz into a fresh sounding hybrid that does right by both its sources.  Both the bite and touch this enterprise requires is evident on each track here as is a welcome knack for change-ups in tone and attack. The lyrical slant is towards the sly and ironic on cuts including “Kill My Conscience”, “The Devil is a Nice Guy” and the title track.  Solid keys-and-rhythm backup here as well.

 

Dan's complete interview of Gaetano Letizia starts at 26'46". See the link shown here.

Here's one of Dan's comments regarding the Voodoo Doll CD Release:

The clever songwriting  that Gaetano Letizia’s “ features on Voodoo Doll” reminds us that the blues isn’t some relic to be taken off the shelf and dusted off occasionally, but part of our daily lives, as both a way to lament bad fortune and look forward to better times.”

 

Dan Polletta

Producer/Host

WCPN-ideastream

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Life is beautiful. Life is grand. Nobody hurts. Nobody cries. We’ve all got plenty to eat, jobs for life and comfortable homes.

Who needs the blues? We do.

“Today’s blues is not like the blues of the sharecropper, the slave picking cotton. We can’t do that anymore because we’ve got machines that do that,’’ said Gaetano “Tom’’ Letizia, founder, lead guitarist and chief bottle-washer of Gaetano Letizia and the Underworld Blues Band.

“Our blues is different,’’ he said. “It’s like, ‘What the heck is going on in Washington, from both sides of the aisle?’

“What’s going on with technology?’’ he said. “So many are well off but still not happy. Why? You’ve still got divorce, still got cheating, still got bad people – the Bernie Madoffs really ruining people’s lives. You see the affluent ruining their lives – rock stars have done it for years. Why did you hurt yourself, and why are you hurting me?’’

OK, we get the point. Clearly, we still need the blues, and Letizia – who spent a reluctant lifetime in the family asphalt business – is happy to provide it.

“Blues is fundamental to the emotional process,’’ Letizia said. “It’s emotion. It’s actually getting OUT bad and negative feelings, or feeling sad or feeling angry. It’s about feeling happy.’’

His is a special kind of blues. He calls it “progressive blues rock,’’ and it gets a perfect showcase in his new album, “Voodoo Doll and Other Blues Lessons,’’ which is being released with a party at Rockefellers in Cleveland Heights on Sunday, Jan. 26.

 

“It’s taking the fundamentals – blues chords and progressions – and stretching it,’’ Letizia said in describing his sound.

“I write in a sort of fusion style,’’ he said. “I’m always combining genres. I’m primarily a composer. I’ve got 10 CDs out, 150 compositions, but they’re mostly instrumentals."

“Voodoo Doll’’ was about two years in the making, Letizia said.

“It’s primarily a moralistic standpoint,’’ he explained.

A song like “Kill My Conscience’’ is a look at what he’s done, and what that got him. It’s like paying attention to money for an entire life, then getting close to the and and saying, “Wow, was it worth it?’’

“I considered whether it comes off as preachy,’’ said Letizia. “In my insecure moments, I will say things like, ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’ But then I feel like that in commercial music, there’s so little truth in general.

“So many just go for the dollar sign, and that’s it,’’ he said. “I wrote from my soul. I’ve always done that.’’

That’s one reason why the entire album has such an autobiographical feel to it. The other is that it IS autobiographical.

After high school, his father – also Tom Letizia – forced him to surrender his dream of being a full-time musician, and instead pursue a business degree at Kent State University. He eventually attended Baldwin Wallace University as a music major and was accepted at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.

Then the world fell apart, emotionally and in reality.

“I started having anxiety attacks,’’ he said. “Back in 1973, I thought I was losing it. I’d start shaking onstage. I darn near had a nervous breakdown.’’

His opportunistic father, who forced him to get a work permit at the age of 10 after telling him, “You’ve got to make a living; your guitar is just a joke,’’ saw his chance.

“My father said join the family business, we need you,’’ Letizia said. “I got totally sucked into that.’’

The deal was to split his time 50-50 on the business and his music.

“After six months, my father said, ‘Get your [expletive] in here and run this thing.' I got sucked into that and started having a family,’’ Letizia said. “I wasn’t going to let little kids get beat up because Dad wouldn’t go to work.’’

He stuck it out, got the kids through college and his Bainbridge home paid off. In March of 2013, the now 62-year-old kissed the business goodbye.

“That was my father’s dream, not mine,’’ he said.

And now? Well, now it’s his turn to sing the blues . . . in a good way.

*** GAETANO LETIZIA & THE UNDERWORLD BLUES ROCK BAND - "Resurrection".

 

Label: Tom Letizia Records.

Gaetano Letizia - Guitars, Vocals, Song Writer.

Larry Keller - Bass.

Steve Renko - Drums.

Bill Ransom - Percussion.

Bob Esterle - Saxes.

Mike Fisher - Trumpet.

Tim Keehn - Trombone.

Robin Stratton - Background Vocals.

 

*** Track 1. - "Resurrection".

Potent guitar laden instrumental sets the pace for the album as Letizia instantly displays his grasp of a myriad of Roots related styles. Effortlessly melded together like a sumptuous gumbo of goodness. The Underworld Blues Rock Band produce a perfect base for Letizia to work with and around. Bluesy Jazzy coolness. Great introduction indeed.

 

*** Track 2. - "Old Guitar Player".

Stylish retro swing style drumming heralds in Letizia's stunning guitar and our first introduction to his singing and man he sounds great. Quite a laconic singer that is not rushed or pushed in one direction or another. Rather Letizia sounds comfortable in his own skin and thankfully does it his way. There is quite a complexity to Letizia's writing and charts that combined are certainly an aural treat. Incredible satisfying sound indeed.

 

*** Track 3. - "Hot & Cold Woman".

Big bold and brassy Náwlins inspired offering with Esterle, Fisher and Keehn  as tight as Renko's drums and the percussion from Ransom  and of course the bass from Keller. Again we have a complex R&B/Blues Funky jumper that has a take no prisoners strut about it. Letizia's guitar is sublime and his vocals gruff, tough and expressive. Great offering this one from a powerful outfit.

 

*** Track 4. - "Standing By The Door".

Renko kick starts this one with some stunning drumming that is quite mesmerizing and this continues throughout this funky song what with Keller laying down that in your face Mississippi inspired funky bass. Letizia's voice is expressive and his guitar again is understated but beautifully so for great effect. Just as it started Renko takes it home with assistance from Letizia.

 

*** Track 5. - "Nothin' To Me".

Quite a mysterious tale of love and love lost albeit from a dark perspective. Letizia's vocals are almost spoken word for great effect and his guitar is again understated but then steps up just enough to show he is in control. Wonderful charts on this one.

 

*** Track 6. - "Three Hearts".

Plaintive Blues with stunning brass runs throughout that take you to Chicago and a back street club. The darkness has a powerful imprint on this one as Letizia lays down some very tasty licks over his expressive vocals. The band certainly shine on this one and they certainly deliver. Standout track for sure.

 

*** Track 7. - "Purgatory".

Here Letizia takes us to a Texas Roadhouse that has melded good ole Country, Blues, Rock into that very distinctive Roadhouse sound but then there is the Gospel inclinations with Letizia's appreciation of St. Peter. The guitar sound is so very crisp and precise that it most certainly is the skinny. Again the band is impressive and quite a foil to Letizia's guitar and vocals.

 

*** Track 8. - "Mr. Bad Luck".

Slowing it down to a seductive level on this stunning Blues that reeks of effortless quality. Letizia croons his vocals as the band rise and fall in a style that simply takes ones breath away. Big bold brass stamps it's authority right across this one and man it is just so damn good. The guitar from Letizia is bold, moody and expressive wringing every emotion possible. This one is a tour de force for the guys and there is so much to love about it.

 

*** Track 9. - "Sylvester Loved The Ladies".

Heh is this a trip to Miami into Little Havana or what. That rhythmic Latin beat permeates throughout the song and Fisher's trumpet majestically leads the band as Keller's bass is solid as is the rest of the rhythm section of Keller and Ransom. Stylish exquisite acoustic guitar runs from Letizia shine throughout as does his expressive vocals. Again big bold brassy flourishes stun the listener and the Bari sax tears at the heart strings just as the song is coming to the end. As with the previous track the addition of the Bari at that moment is subtle but exquisite.

 

*** Track 10. - "Laugh In The Dark".

Not wanting to leave that sumptuous Latin beat Letizia this time takes us on a Tango inspired trip that is quite a dark one at that. Powerful rhythms intertwined with Letizia's stunning guitar and vocals. One thing is certain at this juncture and that is that Letizia is a great songwriter who weaves a web of intrigue throughout his songs that tantalise and mesmerize the listener.

 

*** Track 11. - "Have A Little Party".

Not one to give up on a good thing Letizia continues with our education of the Latin style with this infectious Samba. The vocals are very expressive throughout as is his guitar and l must say the rhythm section blew me away with their offering on this one. Not wanting to be left behind they counter the intensity of Letizia's guitar.

 

*** Track 12. - "Talk To Yourself".

Quite a light and breezy offering that has left the Latin intensity behind to allow one to catch their breath. Stratton provides the wonderful backing vocals that lift the sound indeed as does Letizia's guitar laden with stunning effects. Throughout the brass section again stamp their authority all over this one. Renko rounds out the song and leaves us in no second thought as to just how good a drummer he is.

 

*** Track 13. - "Heaven Or Hell".

This is quite a social observation somewhat whimsical at our life and times at present. Letizia sings in a pleading questioning style shadowed with background vocals from Stratton. As expected we have a rhythm section that is right on the mark and Letizia's guitar runs are sublime . So many questions and not enough answers with this one so maybe we should all just slow down and take a good hard look at ourselves and decide just what we want in life "Heaven Or Hell".

 

Track 14. - "Ascension".

Time to go to church and testify our love of the Blues and just what it can do for us when Gaetano Letizia and The Underworld Blues Rock Band preach the Gospel. Quite a solid rocker that has the rhythm section setting a cracking beat. Yeah l can dig it and now can l testify? 

 

Wow now this is quite an album of incredible musicianship, great singing and wonderful song writing. Gaetano Letizia is a consummate performer who processes a very different singing voice that works perfectly for him and his song writing is witty, observant, cutting, funky and Bluesy . What l love is the ability to incorporate so many styles of music without any fear at all and it works very well indeed. Add to the mix a band and l mean "A Band" of this stature then you have the perfect recipe for success. To listen to these songs requires multiple listens as there is just so much virtuosity contained within them. I loved the fact that l could go back to each song repeatedly and hear something else that l had missed before. Such is the immense quality of "Resurrection". I know one thing for sure apart from the obvious that is that our listeners are going to love this album but it is the obvious ! You know what l am getting at and that is l need to hear more from this Cleveland based maestro! Congratulations to all concerned with this album and also congratulations Michael Bishop on your superb engineering and mastering.

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