Praise for So Close To It

By any standard, Breezy Rodio’s blues odyssey has encompassed quite a few more miles than that of most up-and-coming musicians now riding the competitive Chicago circuit.

It began in New York, where Breezy managed to make his mark. But Chicago was where the real blues action was, and remains. So within a year the guitarist made the auspicious decision to hit the road again, this time heading straight for the Windy City. He’s settled in ever since, steadily honing his craft while emerging as one of circuit’s top young axemen.

Breezy quickly found himself a mentor in guitarist Guy King, whose swinging, eminently tasty licks have graced the Chicago blues scene for quite some time. Before long, Rodio joined the band of guitarist Linsey Alexander, known as “The Hoochie Man” to his many devoted fans. Breezy soon advanced to a bandleading role with Alexander’s outfit, the guitarist working on his 2010 CD If You Ain’t Got It as well as Linsey’s two acclaimed Delmark albums, 2012’s Been There Done That  and his most recent release in 2014, Come Back Baby.

But Rodio found time to do his own thing too, cutting his 2011 debut album Playing My Game Too with a stellar supporting cast that included guest guitarists Lurrie Bell, Rockin’ Johnny, and Dave Herrero and bassist Bob Stroger along with Alexander and King. Breezy’s muse isn’t limited to blues. He issued his first reggae CD,Hope, in 2012 (guitarist Donald Kinsey and bassist Smoking Joe Thomas were in the grooving band), following it up the next year with Strange Situation (not only was local reggae legend Hurricane a prominent presence in the studio combo, he and Breezy perform frequently together in local clubs).

On So Close To It, Breezy reaffirms his crisp, clean mastery of electric blues guitar, displaying a keen sense of tradition and proving himself a convincing vocalist as well. He’s invited another cadre of Chicago’s top blues luminaries to join him, led by harpist extraordinaire Billy Branch, searing guitarist Bell, and two-fisted pianist Ariyo. Hammond B-3 master Chris Foreman is on board too, along with jazz mainstays Art Davis and Bill Overton on trumpet and saxophone respectively. Bassist Light Palone and drummer Lorenzo Francocci constitute a supple rhythm section that gives Rodio precisely the rhythmic push his approach requires.

So Close To It is dominated by Rodio’s well-crafted originals. The title track is a hard-edged shuffle sparked by Quique Gomez’s harp and some unexpected tempo changes, while Branch wails the high-end licks on the grinding “Walking With My Baby (She’s So Fine),” its gritty storyline name-checking one of the city’s leading blues thoroughfares. “Time To Come Back Home” is a horn-driven houserocker, the straight-up shuffle “Mary” opens with stinging, Albert King-tinged Rodio guitar before he takes to the mic, and an elegant “The Day I Met You” elicits more marvelous Breezy fretwork and boasts memorable vocal turns from longtime Chicago favorites Joe Barr and Carl Weathersby.    

Lurrie steps up vocally for an utterly sublime, T-Bone-influenced downbeat gem, “I Win Some More.” The stop-time romp “I Can’t Get Enough Of You” reveals Breezy’s lighthearted, swinging side, and a lowdown “How Much Can A Poor Man Take” brings the set deep down in the alley.

Breezy is particularly enamored of B.B. King’s songbook, reviving his mournful “When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer” as well as a pair of tunes originated by others but popularized by B.B., “Sneakin’ Around” (first out by Rudy Render) and “Please Accept My Love,” originally waxed by Jimmy Wilson. There’s a sleek, surging treatment of Ray Charles’ “You’re Just About To Lose Your Clown,” a revival of T-Bone Walker’s droll “Too Lazy,” and a splendid redo of Elvis Presley’s Otis Blackwell-penned “One Broken Heart For Sale.” Cut live, the closing “Evil Hearted Woman,” another T-Bone goodie, is an exquisite slice of after-hours fare sporting full-bodied piano on the intro.

From Chicago’s top nightspots to European concert halls, this talented young guitarist has made his presence felt. And judging from the convincing contents of this set, this sure won’t be Breezy’s last rodeo!

-- Bill Dahl