Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Matteo Sansonetto Blues Revue
My Life Began To Change
Wind Chill Records
by Greg Easterling
In Chicago, we often lose sight of what a beacon our music has been to the world for more than half a century now. With all the issues we face here with poverty, politics and the police, it’s easy to forget that the mere mention of our city’s name means much more than bullets or basketballs. It’s the power of the blues, one of Chicago’s major musical exports, from Muddy and the Wolf to Buddy, Junior and beyond. It’s the reason Rolling Stones Mick, Keith and Brian Jones beat a path to the door of Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan Avenue back in 1964. Yardbirds Keith Relf, Jim McCarty and Jeff Beck weren’t far behind in ’65 and Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie followed in 1969 to record two records worth of material. Today, the Chess Records studios are largely inactive except as a museum but musicians still come to Chicago to tap into our rich blues tradition.
One of our most recent visitors is Italian guitarist Matteo Sansonetto who recorded his latest album My Life Began To Change at Chicago’s Joy Ride Studios, produced by his friend and fellow countryman Breezy Rodio, who relocated here several years ago. From the front cover shot of Sansonetto and his guitar on a bridge over the Chicago River, to the who’s who of local musicians involved, you sense how excited he was to be here in the home of the blues. As Bill Dahl’s astute liner notes reveal, Sansonetto’s latest has taken him farther from his more traditional Chicago blues roots in the music of Muddy Waters and Magic Slim. There’s a definite diversity this time with Sansonetto’s cover of two Johnny Guitar Watson tunes, including “A Real Mother For Ya” plus nods to New Orleans and Memphis with covers of Lee Dorsey, Albert King, Little Milton and Latimore. There’s also four original songs including the highly personal title track.
“My Life Began To Change” is a love song to a woman but could probably also express Sansonetto’s feeling for the blues as well. He shines instrumentally, making his guitar alternately sting and soothe, especially on his own songs. Local star Chris Foreman of Deep Blue Organ Trio fame also sparkles on this one, his only appearance on the album. The only complaint here is that the track fades out while Foreman is still playing some pleasing notes on his B-3. The same thing happens to Chicago blues star Lurrie Bell’s accompanying vocals on another Sansonetto original, “I Was Wrong”. These are still fine tracks but would have been better served with different endings.
Otherwise, My Life Began To Change is a well-arranged and expertly executed album of modern blues in its many forms. The lineup of local players is impressive: Veteran Marty Binder on drums, producer and recording artist Breezy Rodio on rhythm guitar, Brian Burke on bass, Art Davis on trumpet and Jen Williams on backing vocals, featured on “Let’s Straighten It Out.” A special shout out to tenor saxist Bill Overton for his solo on “Get Out of My Life Woman”, the Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey classic once covered by Paul Butterfield. And also kudos to keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy for his tasty work throughout the album.
Italian born Sansonetto’s command of the English language is good enough and the guitar playing on the album is paramount to his approach to the blues. Sanonetto’s somewhat reedy vocals may not appeal to everyone but nonetheless display his commitment to this uniquely American idiom and, at times, are slightly reminiscent of New Orleans legend Dr. John.
As long as Chicago remains a real center for the blues activity, musicians like Matteo will continue to make their pilgrimage to this city. The annual Chicago Blues Festival, locally based blues and jazz labels such as Alligator and Delmark Records and clubs such as Buddy Guy’s Legends, House of Blues, B.L.U.E.S., Kingston Mines, Rosa’s, Blue Chicago and Harlem Avenue Lounge are all part of keeping the blues alive in the Chicago area.
My Life Began To Change is a great example of how Chicago blues continues to excite musicians all over the world. Let’s hope that spirit never ends, inspiring future generations to come.
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Greg Easterling holds down the 12 midnight – 5 a.m. shift on WDRV (97.1 FM) He also hosts American Backroads on WDCB (90.9 FM) Thursdays at 9 p.m.