Tommy Z,
Blizzard of Blues
(South Blossom, 2016)

Blues Matters Magazine called Tommy Z one of western New York's best-kept secrets. I can see why. Blizzard of Blues is his fourth album, and he's won a mountain of regional, national and international awards for his first three. But when I listened to this one, my first thought was, Why have I never heard of this guy? How can somebody this gifted be working in relative obscurity?

Based in Buffalo, New York, his career to this day seems to have been regional -- if you don't count the tours for the troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and other hot spots, which he has been conducting regularly since 2003.

If I had to catch the mood of this album in a single word, I'd say versatile. It opens with "Lovergirl," a Chicago-sounding blues number that takes its inspiration from the Muddy Waters band of the '50s, with Tommy Z playing Waters-type riffs and Jeremy Keys as Little Walter. The song is even engineered to catch that Chess Studios sound, using a very appropriate low-fi. Following that we get an Eddie Cochran inspired number, "Going to a Party," which is straight-ahead blues-based rock 'n' roll and drives like a Nascar entry. Then we get a blues ballad, a few jazz-inflected numbers and some chilling solo play.

Too often for my tastes, blues-rock soloists fall back on the standard blues riffs and cliches to build their solos, so that what starts off exciting winds up boring. That's not the case with Tommy Z; the man knows how to construct a solo. He'll introduce his theme, expound on it, improvise around it, hit a climactic moment and then, instead of ending the solo, he'll strike out improvising around what he's discovered in the first run-through of the solo. You listen to him and you feel you've just discovered genius.

As I said, I don't know why he's not big-time. Maybe he chooses not to be; maybe he's as successful as he wants and needs to be. If he wants more than he has right now, though, Blizzard of Blues ought to give it to him.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

2 April 2016

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