Jimmy Vivino & the Black Italians,
13 Live
(Blind Pig, 2013)

If you only know Jimmy Vivino as Conan O'Brien's band leader, you're in for a surprise. Twenty years ago, when Vivino was a working musician in New York City, he formed the Black Italians to play a weekly gig at the Downtown Music Bar, one of the premier clubs at the time. The band played what Vivino called "Third World Blues with New Orleans Swagger. The band lasted for two years, ending when Vivino's TV gig began taking up too much time. (He's been with O'Brien from the beginning of Conan's late night show.)

Last year, he put the band back together to play a show at Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble. This album was cut live at that show. I'm known to be a touch enthusiastic at times, but all I can say in this case is thank heaven they had the uncommon good sense to record this set, because it is magnificent.

Vivino points out that the Black Italians are made up of a racial and ethnically mixed group; he describes them as the perfect mix of Italians, Cubans, Jews and African-Americans. What they have in common and what makes them in his eyes Black Italians, is soul. And Lord do these guys have soul. Everything they play, from the straight blues of "Fat Man" and "Soulful Dress" to the rock of Dylan's "From a Buick 6" and "Maggie's Farm," is drenched in blues the way pork is drenched in barbecue sauce.

The album closes with two songs celebrating their location: Vivino's brilliant ballad "Song for Levon" and an all-out assault on the Band's "Shape I'm In."

Here's the thing: describing 13 Live just can't come close to capturing the brilliance and sparkling beauty of the music. You've simply got to hear it, got to let this stuff into your soul, where it will live forever, and you will be a happier and better person for it.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 September 2013

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