The problem with terrifically talented blues and roots guitarists such as Tom Principato is that they aren't typically terrific songwriters or singers. That's an issue that has plagued Principato throughout a respectable solo career that began in 1984 and has dogged him for a dozen solid if inconsistent albums since. He's improved on both counts on this 2011 entry, the first comprised entirely of originals. While his words remain occasionally clunky, his dusky singing has acquired a warmth and sensitivity with similarities to another great guitarist, Eric Clapton. Anyone who has seen Principato live, or has heard his high-energy Blazing Telecasters projects with Danny Gatton, knows that he can tear it up with the best of them. But he stays on a low boil for the majority of this session, letting the songs breathe instead of filling them with spotlight-stealing solos. That, along with some engaging melodies such as "Sweet Angel," makes this his most accessible and enjoyable release because he's letting the tunes dictate the playing, as opposed to vice versa. He's assisted by overdubs from veterans and longtime friends such as keyboardists Brian Auger and Chuck Leavell, along with slide maven Sonny Landreth and Memphis Horns man Wayne Jackson, who all make short but impressive appearances. Although usually lumped into the blues genre, the guitarist avoids its clichés, preferring to simmer in its rootsy vibe on the lovely title track. That song is his most introspective statement, perhaps ever, where the lyrics "when will I learn not to crash and burn," matched with an emotionally stirring vocal, seem almost brutally honest and personal. Principato goes New Orleans second line for a lyrically obvious yet peppy "Down in Lou'siana" that propels its way through one of the set's most biting guitar solos. He shows nimble jazz chops on "Back Again & Gone," one of two instrumentals that let his guitar do the singing, as it does on the Santana/Peter Green/Mark Knopfler-styled "Stranger's Eyes," the latter keeping a mellow groove urged on by Gail Sanchez's congas and some of Principato's most luxurious playing. It may not be a hit but it deserves to be and, like the rest of these tunes, shows a melodic maturity and intrinsic professionalism not dependent on the star's sizzling six-string skills.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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. 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.