Puttin' West Coast Blues on the Map

Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers -
Tough And Tender

(Tone-Cool Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

They may be white and from California but that ain't stoppin' Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers from laying down some of the tastiest blues that side of the Mississippi. From the electrified blues of Chicago to New Orleans spiced R & B to the swing of West Coast jump-blues these guys mix it all up to form a broad ranged blues genre.
At 50-years-old, blues harp maestro and singer Rod Piazza has been performing his own blend of uptempo blues for the last three decades, only gaining the recognition that he and his band deserve within the blues community over the last few years.
On their latest album Tough And Tender, his first new release since 1992, Piazza offers up a fun album of original numbers all penned by Piazza himself, except for the song "Under The Big Top" written by guitarist Rick "L.A. Holmes" Holmstrom. On the opening number "Power Of The Blues" Piazza and company, which includes Bill Stuve on acoustic bass, Steve Mugalian on drums, wife Honey Piazza on keyboards and Holmstrom on guitar, set the tone for the rest of album as they musically tear the joint apart.
Piazza's voice, while warm and honest, really lacks the depth of emotion and soul that the best of blues singers convey. He makes up for it ten-fold, however, with not only his soulful harmonica playing but with his smokin' band that could very well be one of the hottest blues outfits around today.
Instead of hogging the spotlight, Piazza recognizes the talent around him and gives each bandmember a good plot-of-land to work in. On the moody number "Quicksand" Holmstrom's guitar-work smolders, while Honey Piazza's boogie-woogie piano style on the rousing instrumental "Hang Ten Boogie" and the title track, "Tough And Tender", conjures up all the blistering heat and humidity of a Louisiana summer. And the finger-snappin', feet-shufflin' rhythm section of Stuve and Mugalian, while never overpowering, manage to keep things moving fast, proving the theory that time really does fly when your having fun. On the rocking instrumental "The Teaser" the musical synergy of the entire band comes together to turn this five-piece band into a real piece of work.
With Tough And Tender, Piazza and his Mighty Flyers may just be able to put West Coast blues on the musical map alongside blues capitols Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and the muddy Mississippi Delta region.

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