Friday, March 9, 2012

The Cazanovas

By Steve Wildsmith
Of The Daily Times Staff

Danny Vinson knew The Cazanovas were meant for something more than playing covers of “Mustang Sally” and “Texas Flood” when his bandmate, vocalist Maurice Nazzaro, brought his original music to rehearsal.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a blues band playing much-loved covers of songs made famous by other artists. But Vinson, The Cazanovas’ guitarist, recognized immediately that Nazzaro’s own work merited more than a friendly pat on the back and a polite “sounds nice.”

“We rehearse regularly, and it was at one of our early rehearsals when he started bringing his material in,” Vinson told The Daily Times this week. “He sang some of the stuff and played it, and I thought, man, these are good songs! I don’t think anybody ever took them serious enough to want to help him develop them, but I did.”

That original music became the foundation stone upon which The Cazanovas built an explosive live show and a raw, gritty sound reminiscent of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The four-piece outfit — which also includes bassist John Straw and drummer Steve Harding — is a conglomeration of players from around the Atlanta and Athens, Ga., music scene, each of them having performed for years in various combinations.

“We’ve been playing together in bands and what-not around town for years,” Vinson said. “I played with Alex Mills; John came out of The Healers; Steve played with L.A. Jones; and Maurice has been leading his own bands around town for years. Basically, John and Steve and I got together working on another project with another singer, and that kind of fell through. We wanted to stay together because we enjoyed it so much, so we gave Reese a buzz to see if he was interested. He came out and played with us one time, and we got along really great, and everything kind of took off from there.”

That was more than three years ago. Seizing upon Nazzaro’s original music, the band knew immediately it wanted to step up to a level above that of the average blues bar band.

“He’s a prolific songwriter, and when he started introducing some of his original material, I took it and ran with it,” Vinson said. “A couple of songs, like ‘Nervous Condition,’ he had written years ago but never had the opportunity to record them. When we started working on them, I don’t know how many nights we sat down in his basement and pounded and worked those songs up.”

The end result was last year’s release, “Borrowed Time.” It covers a broad spectrum of music, all anchored in the blues. With keyboard flourishes and horn runs to add a little studio shine to the songs, it’s like an old pair of boots shined up real nice — they look great, but it takes wearing them out and getting them dirty to truly appreciate how good they really feel.

With a solid groove laid down by Straw and Harding, The Cazanovas twist and turn on Vinson’s Keith Richards-style guitar work and Nazzaro’s gruff, Big Bopper-esque voice and slick harmonica punches. Such names may give patrons a basis of comparison, but they don’t do the band justice.

“It’s not a copy of something,” Vinson said. “It’s familiar, and it’s rooted in the blues, but it’s not something you’ve heard before. For a lot of people, it’s kind of hard to accept, but it’s just good music. The lyrics and the grooves behind them are all just good blues-roots music. I’m not a lyricist by any means; I’m more of an arranger. Which is what worked so well when he wanted me to help him come up with some chord progressions, because we sat down and put this stuff together.”

That teamwork translates well to the live setting, such as Saturday night at Brackins Blues Bar in downtown Maryville. It’s the first time The Cazanovas have played the venue, but hopefully, Vinson said, it won’t be the last.

“We come out of the corner swinging, and we’re gonna hit you right between the eyes,” he said. “We’re just a kick-ass blues band, and we don’t hold any punches back. We don’t claim to be traditional Chicago blues; we just come out, and we’re going to make you listen to us. You’re going to know we were there.”

“This one (Borrowed Time) could be filed under classic blues, or if you had a category for GOOD MUSIC, it would definitely belong there”….. “Music that is rooted in blues but doesn't necessarily sound like a copy of something that we've heard before. No small feat, but The Cazanovas have done it.”

- Chris Kramer ABS Music Review, Atlanta, GA

The Cazanovas
"Borrowed Time"

"MUSTANG SALLY", "STORMY MONDAY BLUES", "COLD SHOT", "WHIPPING POST", "MESSIN' WITH THE KID" and "HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN" cannot be heard on THE CAZANOVAS' "BORROWED TIME". AMEN! Now I know it sounds like I just dissed several great blues songs that indeed have been written and performed by some great blues folk, however, there was absolutely no disrespect intended. Unquestionably, those songs are all classics. On the other hand, if I took all the discs I receive that you can hear most of them on, I could build a life size replica of a "RED HOUSE". Get my drift?

"BORROWED TIME", impressionably and refreshingly, contains ten very well written and very well performed originals, and the people responsible for this pleasurable project are: MAURICE NAZZARO on vocals and harmonica; DANNY VINSON on guitars and background vocals; JOHN WAYNE STRAW on Fender bass; and STEVE "DA WOLFMAN" HARDING on drums and background vocals. Joining the CAZANOVAS are special guests SEAN COSTELLO on several guitar solos, DAN SEIFERT on Hammond B3, JOHN and NICK LONGO on saxophones and DONNA HOPKINS and LOLA GULLY on background vocals.

My particular favorite track is "LONG TIME". MAURICE'S harmonica playing is absolutely profound. His style of play on this track, as well as his vocals, are quite reminiscent of one of my all time favorite singer/harp players - the late and very great William Clarke. This three and a half minute track could have pleasurably been three and a half minutes longer.

"GIVE IT ALL BACK" is, as the CAZANOVA'S describe their own style of play, "Butt-Rockin' Blues". I'm betting that "DA WOLFMAN'S" butt was surely rockin' and maybe even poppin' - off the stool that is. He absolutely tears up the drums on this one. Lots of rockin' guitar licks and some hot Hammond by DANNY and DAN add to the smoke.

"THE SHUFFLER" is groovy instrumental that's all guitar and organ. With a steady and soft rhythm background, the two DAN'S - DANNY VINSON on guitar and DAN SEIFERT on the Hammond organ - take tasteful turns taking the lead.

On "CRYING TIME" the CAZANOVAS start off in - and never leave - a real smooth, toe-tapping groove. The rhythm section of JOHN and STEVE set the real nice pace. Several very nice harp highlights and great vocals by MAURICE and an absolutely fabulous guitar solo by none other than SEAN COSTELLO make this one replay button material. Another of the discs bests.

The very Delbert McClinton sounding "TOO BAD SO SAD" features a bit of funk from the LONGO BROTHERS horn section. Unfortunately this is the only track they can be enjoyed on. This track also features some of DANNY'S best guitar work.

If you're a bass man, when you insert this disc into your player, go straight to track nine - "BYE BYE BABY". In spite of some great vocals and harp solos by MAURICE, JOHN steals this one.

"SUPERNOVA" is an absolute all out free for all instrumental jam. This one has the CAZANOVAS simultaneously and franticly peaking. What a way to end this disc. It's a super song on a super CD by a super group - THE CAZANOVAS. If you're one of my readers who happens to reside in, or frequents the Atlanta area, stop in on a CAZANOVAS show and tell them that the Blewzzman told you "they rip".

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