Record Review - 2 July 08 2004

For the few blues fans new to multiple W.C. Handy Blues Award-winning Rod Piazza's brand of music, he (re)introduces his Mighty Flyers on "Big Blues Party," the opening track of his ninth album with the group. Against a funky backbeat, each member solos with harpist Piazza acting as ringmaster. As cliched and played out as the concept is, Piazza pulls it off by his obvious enthusiasm and playful exuberance. It's that sense of fun meshed with road-toughened experience that makes Keepin' It Real such a joy.

With pianist wife Honey riding shotgun, Piazza blows up a storm, dividing the disc between dusty classics such as "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and original tunes. All play to Piazza's strengths: tough-toned, amplified Chicago-style harmonica blues laced with a looser, sunnier L.A. groove and peppy vocals. He's so enamored of his home turf that he name checks it on both "Moving in a West Coast Way" and "West Coast Midnight Blues." The latter is a gruff, biting, languorous stomp that sounds like the backing music to a sleazy Clermont Lounge strip show. Sweet and sassy Honey Piazza gets her chance to smoke the 88s on the nine-minute instrumental "Buzzin'," a showcase of her extraordinary boogie-woogie skills.

Even when the band resorts to business-as-usual shuffles such as "That's What She Hollered," the live-in-the-studio electricity crackles so effectively it's impossible not to go with the flow. It's that honesty and passion that makes Keepin' it Real a real keeper.

-- Hal Horowitz