Rock ‘n’ roll is a conveyor belt. Every year, another bright young thing, famous for a finger-snap, then forgotten forever. Albert Castiglia has walked a different path. As the man who once sang, “The road to riches is playing guitar, that’s why I’m living inside my car”, he’s spent two decades climbing the greasy pole and paying dues with interest. Now, Solid Ground is payback.
Released in February 2014 as Albert’s debut album for Ruf Records, Solid Ground will let the global blues-rock scene discover what the hardcore fans have known from the start. Namely, that here is an artist who sings from the gut, shoots guitar licks from the hip and writes songs that articulate your hopes, fears and heartaches. “Solid Ground is my best album to date,” says the 44-year-old bandleader, simply. “I put more time, love, blood, sweat and tears into this recording than any of the others, and it shows. I love every song on it and I’m sure there’ll be something for everyone to like.”
He’s right. Recorded at Fat Rabbit Studios in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, this album isn’t just solid, it’s special. There are plenty of thrills in the musical execution, with Albert leading the line on vocals and guitar, backed by the crack team of Matt Schuler (bass/vocals), Bob Amsel (drums), Jeremy Baum (B3/piano/wurlitzer), Lou Bevere (guitar/vocals) and Debbie Davies (guitar/vocals) – plus Dave Gross on multi-instrumentation and production. Ultimately, though, the real stars of the sessions are Solid Ground’s 14 songs.
Lighting the album’s fuse, Triflin’ hits listeners with Albert’s soulful fretwork, while his vocal spins tales of a life both bitter and sweet (“We all have our share of problems, damn near every day…”). Woman trouble is a recurring theme, whether it’s on the defiant bounce of Keep You Around Too Long or the shattered slow-blues of Have You No Shame (“I saw you last night under them parking-lot lights, wrapped up in someone else’s arms…”). But alongside personal issues, there are also songs plugged into the wider social context, as Albert implores us to seize the day – or, as he puts it, Put Some Stank On It – and bemoans the war-torn modern world on Love One Another (“It seems like hate is on the rise, it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes…”).
A shape-shifting artist with an eclectic vision, Albert’s songwriting is equally convincing on the Latin-tinged instrumental Little Havana Blues (Arroz Con Mango) as the sunny strum of Celebration, and even when he takes on the Stones’ mighty Sway, he prises it out of Mick and Keef’s grasp. He’s just as magnetic when he strips it back on the sparse acoustic slide-blues of Hard Time. “I was born in a broke-down Chevy,” he sings. “Now I feel like it’s on me heavy. I was raised in a dirty junkyard, my only friend was this guitar...”.
That might be bending the truth, but Albert’s path has certainly been colourful. Born August 12, 1969, in New York, he was a product of that city’s great melting-pot community, the son of a Cuban mother and Italian father. At five, the family moved to Miami, Florida, and when the twelve-year-old Albert took his first guitar lesson, a spark was lit that couldn’t be snuffed out.
Even so, bills needed paying, and although he made his professional debut in 1990 with Miami Blues Authority (and was later named ‘Best Blues Guitarist’ by that city’s alt-music magazine, New Times), Albert juggled early gigging with his day job as a social services investigator. Regardless, word spread, and Albert truly arrived on the international radar after Buddy Guy’s iconic harp-blower, Junior Wells, heard the young bluesman sing and invited him into the solo band for several world tours. The gig was a shop-window, and though Wells sadly died in 1998, Albert stayed busy, joining the great Atlanta vocalist Sandra Hall for national tours in the late-’90s, and holding his own in onstage jams with everyone from Pinetop Perkins to John Primer.
For a lesser talent with lesser momentum, that role as sideman and gun-for-hire might have been enough. Right from the start, though, Albert had a creative itch that only a solo career and a songwriting carte blanche could scratch. So it began, with 2002’s Burn opening his account, followed by 2006’s A Stone’s Throw, 2010’s Keepin On and 2012’s Living The Dream.
Each new release was a step up, hammering home Albert’s reputation and ensuring there was plenty of classy material to fuel his increasingly well-attended live shows. Now, in 2014, comes Solid Ground. Surfing on the buzz from press and public, supported by a major touring campaign and bolstered by Ruf’s marketing muscle, this album is the game-changer and the giant leap. You can keep your bright young things and your overnight success stories. Albert Castiglia is a talent built to last.