march 2012

Mike Sponza (left) and Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin get a kick out of the blues…

Global Blues

By David McGee

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin with Mike Sponza Band

A banshee wail of slide guitar explodes out of the left side of the speaker about a split second into Blues Around the World, returns again near the midway point and is further augmented by a blood curdling howl as the band stomps and roars its way through “Lost Again,” a blistering chronicle of a man whose life is deconstructing at every turn. Welcome to the latest, hard-boiled chapter in the ongoing saga of Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, blues guitarist par excellence who has traveled far musically, spiritually and every other way since breaking in with Muddy Waters’s band back in the ‘70s.

This latest missive finds the steady rollin’ man teaming with the Mike Sponza Band, an Italian trio he met and joined onstage for a series of shows in Europe in 2011. The public response to their music making on stage was so strong the principals decided to take it into the studio. The evidence on Blues Around the World suggests they nailed what made their live shows special. Margolin brought seven originals to the party, Sponza added two of his own, and to round out the tunestack they added covers of gems by Nappy Brown, Muddy, and a gent named Robert Johnson. It’s all good.

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin and the Mike Sponza Band, live, ‘Lost Again,’ the opening cut on Blues Around the World

Vocally, Margolin is simply tearing it up, singing with grit, soul and fearsome conviction—dig the way he tears into Nappy’s grinding “Down In the Alley” as Sponza adds sizzling six-string support to Margolin’s own bruising guitar. Sponza dazzles again with a frisky solo to kick off Margolin’s lusty, strutting “While You’re Down There,” which is equally notable for Steady Rollin’’s frisky vocal and spirited soloing as the tune choogles along merrily. On a reflective note, Margolin’s “Blues Lover” is a subdued, sensuous meditation concerning the music’s appeal to a stylish young lady about whom our man confides, “modern music just don’t move her, hip-hop and all the rest…” and “she ain’t lookin’ for a man.” In addition to his cool, understated crooning, Margolin fashions a compelling, dark-hued, fat-toned solo in evoking the moody, dimly lit solitude the lady in question enters, leaving it to Sponza to suggest the tale’s underlying tension in the wail and protest of his closing sortie. The shuffling “Rather Than Being Free,” one of Sponza’s two originals, features vibrant interplay between Margolin’s fingerpicking and Sponza’s top strings-heavy shadings, as the latter sings with wary resignation of the chains of love binding him to a mistreating woman—“I accept all this/rather than be free,” he admits straightforwardly ahead of Margolin taking off on a sputtering but ruminative solo, crafted with measured restraint against the song’s brisk pace.

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin in Italy with the Mike Sponza Band, performing Leroy Carr’s ‘How Long Blues’ (April 2011)

Though it certainly brings back some warm memories to hear Margolin rip and roar through the opening salvo of Muddy’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”—and then bring it home with a rousing, growling vocal as Sponza, bassist Mauro Tolot and drummer Moreno Buttinar cook so mightily behind him--the truly special treat on Blues Around the World is the album closing version of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain.” This rare Margolin solo acoustic number, with his VizzTone partner Richard Rosenblatt crying evocatively on the harp for good measure, is a low-key beauty of tasty, fingerpicked guitar and deeply aggrieved, plaintive singing. All in all, our steady rollin’ man has done blues fans a favor by introducing the Mike Sponza Band to a wider audience, even as he’s done himself proud here as a triple threat singer-songwriter-picker. If modern music don’t move you, hip-hop and all the rest, Blues Around the World is good for what ails you.

Bob Margolin’s Blues Around the World is available at

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