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Albert Castiglia Ups His Game

Miami bluesman Albert Castiglia returns to central Illinois early next month, and this time he's touring on what critics are calling his finest album.  Castiglia says he agrees with with what his critics are saying about the album titled "Big Dog," and credits the albums producer Mike Zito.

"Because Mike and I are cut out of a similar cloth musically, and we both grew up listening to blues and rock music made it a good pairing. There's an edge to this album.  Mike dialed in my guitar sound. When we met at the studio, he brought his trailer full of all the equipment he owns.  We experimented with sound and he really got my guitar sound to what I sound like live.  And vocally he pushed me to heights I never thought possible."

Castiglia mentioned his decision to cover Luther Allison's "Drowning at the Bottom" as an example of how Zito pushed him into new vocal territory.  Allison was known as one of the most powerful and soulful blues singers to walk the earth, especially during live shows, which often rivaled Bruce Springsteen shows for length. 

Castiglia also covered his former boss Junior Wells on this new album.  Castiglia played with the blues legend right before he passed away in 1998, and considers him a father figure. 

"I always put Junior Wells on a pedestal.  He opened doors for me. If it wasn't for him I might have a different story to tell."

He said he wanted to record Wells' "Where Did I Go Wrong" because of the R&B direction Wells took on that 1968 album.

"The album was 'Tough Enough' on the Blue Rock label. He recorded it during a time he wanted to move in a soul-funk direction.  And I loved the album. I was told by his nephew Michael Blakemore that he was vilified by the purists for making that record.  But it was a great record.  Even though it was a soul record, it had nuggets of blues in it."

The song "Get Your Ass In The Van" is a Castiglia original on "Big Dog" that was inspired by a Facebook post where a fellow musician was complaining about the tough music business.  Castiglia said the person hadn't been in the business very long and wasn't getting any breaks.

"You know there's no guarantee of success in music, much less in blues.  If you're lucky you can carve out a pretty decent living, which I've been able to do.  But it's hard work and you have to pay a lot of dues.  I was talking with some of my buddies about the post and one of the guys said 'that guy needs to stop complaining and get in the van.'  And then the lightbulb hit and I went home and wrote the song in five minutes.

Castiglia says he originally liked shows like American Idol, but says his opinion has changed.

"I've never been a big fan of contests (with music). I don't like the message it brings.  This world has become more about being famous than being a great musician or successful musician.  Even on TV, there's no talent anymore, you just stick a camera in somebody's house and follow them around.  Then they become a star.

Castiglia has certainly paid his dues.  He's toured the U.S. and Europe incessantly and makes another return to Illinois in the next couple weeks.  He plays Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago August 3, followed by an August 5 appearance at the Pekin Boat Club and August 6 date at the 3rd Base Sports Bar in Springfield. 

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.