"Paul Zunno - Solo Acoustic"
What does a person need to make a "Solo Acoustic" album? Excellent guitarplaying skills to start with. An impressive voice. And guts of course. Some good material helps too. Yes, we find all of that here.
Paul tells: "I played guitar for Wilson Pickett for about seven years. I was a big fan of Wilson growing up as a kid and to play "Mustang Sally" and "The Midnight Hour" with the man who made it famous was an honor. Wilson was and is my favorite Rock and Roll singer.
I am also a fan of Gary U.S. Bonds. I learned about Gary through Bruce Springsteen and the 80's album "Dedication". This recording inspired me to discover Gary's earlier work like "Quarter to Three" and "New Orleans". I went to see Gary perform at the Stone Pony in New Jersey and he was amazing. To this day he is the best live performer I have ever seen. The thrill of playing guitar with him that night I will take to my grave. I recently had the incredible honor of having a song I wrote and recorded by Gary put into a sound track for an independent film. I learned a great deal about Rock and Roll from Gary.
I am also a fan of: B.B. King, Howling Wolf, Albert King, Ray Charles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, U2, The Police, Sublime, anything new and great like Feist."
The bio tells: "Paul Zunno is an accomplished blues guitarist and critically acclaimed songwriter hailing from New York City. He has received rave reviews as a live performer and has toured throughout the world. He performs solo and with the Paul Zunno Band."
"Paul, a self-taught guitarist, grew up studying the recordings of Wilson Pickett and Gary U.S. Bonds. He later became Pickett's lead guitarist for seven years until his passing. He appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in support of Mr. Pickett's last album and performed in the Miramax film "Only The Strong Survive", a movie about legendary soul singers. Paul has written and recorded songs for Gary U.S. Bonds, including "Christmas Is On", featured in 2007's holiday film "A Merry Little Christmas". Zunno credits his new release "Paul Zunno - Solo Acoustic" to his education in this working classroom. "When I started I didn't have the skills to make this recording. They taught me a lot". He explains what made his mentors great was their honesty. He saw how musicianship and not technology created their sound. "I decided to record live with just my guitar. I was trying to capture myself as a perfermor like they did." He wrote ten new originals for "Paul Zunno - Solo Acoustic" and he also covers songs by Bob Dylan, The Doors, Tom Waits, Doc Pomus and Dolly Parton. "I've made a point to perform songs by great songwriters. It's a good way to see how your own songs stack up."
The artwork of the CD shows a couple of pictures of Paul, complety caught up in his guitar playing. Simple, yet efficient, with all the neccessary info featured in the booklet. The disc contains no less than fifteen tracks and the production is crystal clear. I wish more self-released albums would look and sound like this!
Already the first track, "Sweet Charity", shows how well this goes together: the flowing, rolling guitarplaying and the somewhat gruff rawness of Paul's voice. It's just a sweet lovesong, yet everything fits seamlessly. "Hold Me Up" puts more soul in the song, an exciting contrast with that folky guitarsound here. I luv "Rosa", an optimistic uptempo song: "All of that traffic on Broadway / Rosa just smiles" and it's realistic too: "Cause she knows fear / And she knows crime / But today she feels pretty / And just glad to be alive". An unbelievably fast, virtuoso instrumental "Mexico" and slow bluesy "Baby Please" follow. Paul's interpretation of the Doc Pomus song "Lonely Avenue" is definitely the highlight of the album. He covers The Doors too, "Love Me Two Times" and closes the circle with another slow bluesy track "My Girl" and a 'showing off the skills' fast instrumental "Buzzin'".
Dolly Parton's "Jolene" seems a somewhat odd choice, as it's such a well-known 'woman-to-woman' song. But hey, if a man wants to cover it: nothing wrong with that! "Roll Away" is a very strong country blues: "What's that in the backyard / Walking in the dark". The Tom Waits cover "Jesus Gonna Be Here" stays in the same country blues style and then another really strong one follows: "Slowly And Softly", a John Hiatt type of poignant love song. "Chyosan" is an instrumental and then an inspired Dylan cover closes off with a wonderful solo and those great lyrics: "I said outside in the cold distance / A wild cat did growl / Two riders were approaching / And the wind began to howl / All along the watchtower."
And this leaves me slightly breathless. Only one guitar and one voice, yet I wasn't bored for one second. I admit, I'm not the expert when it comes to guitars, I'm always easy to impress by some fast picking here or a riff and a slide there. But I guess Wilson Pickett had much higher standards... The covers go very well together with the originals, just like Paul Zunno intended. It's the same quite simple, but honest and clear style. The songs follow each other in a logical way, like a string of pearls, each -faster or slower- telling a part of a long story. A story in music. A story that touches the heart.
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, May 2008.