Albert Castiglia has taken a streamlined approach on his fifth studio album Keepin On, recording much of it live with minimal overdubs and a mix of covers and originals. The formula has caught on with blues fans who helped the album hit #1 at blues radio. The mix of five originals with covers of songs by John Lee Hooker, Mack Rice, T-Bone Walker, Robert Nighthawk, Peter Green, and Bob Dylan and the direct approach to capturing the songs works well, most of the time.
Keepin On is easier to absorb in pieces than as a whole because there is a fatigue that sets in due to the sameness in sound and dynamic, the kind of risk one runs with a no-frills, minimalist approach. When taken on a song-by-song basis, the hard, intense, fiery leadwork by Castiglia is searing and engrossing. When listened to from beginning to end, it gets harder to distinguish one pipin' hot solo from another. The presence of two acoustic numbers on the record should break up monotony but it doesn't, at least not entirely.
"My Baby Is Now On My Mind" is a T-Bone Walker cover and showcases what is good and frustrating about the record. The song opens with restrained, muted riffing and Castiglia sings with an agreeable countrified twang. It shuffles nicely until the guitar solo when he dips into the hard rock ink, lurching the song from a 3 or 4 on the Richter scale to an 8 before bringing it back down again. Some may not find the suddenness disturbing. Hell, they may even like it. I'd rather hear a chill guitar solo that fits the laid back arrangement that bookends the song.
It's not that I don't like a good paint-peeling guitar solo with loud squalls and furious likcs. "Mojo 305" is a great showcase for Castiglia's leadwork. With four minutes and no verses or vocals to compete with, he comfortably stretches out and doesn't try to burn too hot or shred too much. The tempo is relaxed and the percussion peppers the song with some nice seasoning, but mostly what you get is Castiglia's guitar. That guitar is also front and center on his cover of Dylan's "Till I Fell In Love With You," which he plays with gusto. Bill Quinn peppers the rhythm with some spooky blasts of organ but this is all about Castiglia's tangy vocal and blistering guitar. He and his band jam the song for six minutes, allowing for multiple guitar breaks. "Do You Love Me?" has a bit of a Jimmy Buffett-blues hybrid sound, the congas providing a little of the beach feel and some fast riffing from Castiglia propelling the song quickly forward.
The intro and repeated riff of "Getting' By" is a cousin to The Black Crowes' "Twice As Hard" as Castiglia plays around with a Southern rock approach to a slow blues. The vocal melody sounds nothing like the Crowes' tune, which makes for fun listening. Similar chords and riff pattern, yes, but two very different songs. They came to the fork and the road and they took it, as Yogi Berra might say. The guitar solos are a little less intense on this track than elsewhere on the album, which means it fits very well with the fabric of the song.
Listeners will find Keepin On a satisfying listen as long as they don't ask more of it than it is prepared to offer. Castiglia is a gifted player and fans of loud, modern, hard rockin' blues will get a whole lot of that but anyone not falling under this spell quickly or looking for a little more diversity will be left wanting.