By Martine Ehrenclou
If you’re seated directly in front for an Albert Castiglia show, you know you’re going to get your mind blown. Castiglia’s ferocious guitar and powerful voice bring an intensity few possess. He’s not just a monster player, but a deep-thinking songwriter.
It was Monday night. Fighting Los Angeles traffic to forge my way to The Maui Sugar Mill in Tarzana, CA was well worth it. The show was presented by blues promotor Cadillac Zack. Those of us who live here and are privy to the bevy of superb artists he brings to intimate venues, appreciate just how special it is to see favorite artists up close in small venues.
Zack also brought in Kirk Fletcher to guest with Castiglia and his band. We were in for a guitar lovers feast. The two of them together lit the fire of blues/rock, stoking a full bonfire by the end of the night.
South Florida’s own Albert Castiglia is a beast of a guitar player, singer and songwriter, known for his hard-driving blues/rock, virtuosic guitar chops and searing vocals. He spent years backing none other than the great bluesman Junior Wells. A two-time Blues Music Award-winner for his album Masterpiece and 2022 Blues Rock Artist of the Year, Castiglia is more than just a master of high-energy shows that include big doses of humor and a kinetic connection with his band and the crowd. He writes personal lyrics, often moving and insightful.
The Maui Sugar Mill is not a 70s dive bar, it’s dark interior with unlike deep red leather banquets, high-top tables and a dance area/pool table in back. The club was jam-packed to see Castiglia and Fletcher, lively and loud, the energy intense.
Castiglia opened the show with the blistering “Big Toe” from his album A Stone’s Throw, followed by fan favorite “Let The Big Dog Eat.” Albert is a fierce musician, often breaking into funny commentary, endearing himself to fans.
There are certain artists who are naturals on stage. Castiglia is one of them. Interacting with the crowd and cracking jokes, he uses his body to perform, bending, kicking, and moving with the music. Like a big kid dressed in Levi’s, Converse sneakers and t-shirt, Albert was more comfortable on stage than I’d seen him. The enthusiastic packed house didn’t hurt.
Introducing his song “Take My Name Out Of Your Mouth” from his new album I Got Love, he joked with the audience. “My lyrics were hijacked by The Fresh Prince of Bel,” he grinned, referring to Will Smith. He then launched into the tune, performing slow blues with such soulful guitar riffs, singing clever and biting lyrics. Before you knew it, his fingers flew up and down the fretboard, revving the engine of the room.
After thanking Cadillac Zack for putting on the show, Albert introduced Kirk Fletcher who walked on stage with his red Gibson SG. Fletcher is known as one of the best blues players in the world, a multi Blues Music Award nominee, and has played, recorded and toured with a variety of renowned artists including The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Joe Bonamassa, Kim Wilson, Cyndi Lauper, Robben Ford and others.
You couldn’t pick two more different guitar players and singers than Castiglia and Fletcher. Surprisingly, their disparate styles complimented each other so well. The genuine fun they had together on stage was a joy to watch. After a couple more blues rocking tunes, Kirk took center stage in his humble way and performed “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues” from his album Hold On. His guitar tone and phrasing were beautiful, his vocals strong and rich. Albert and the band backed him until the two famed guitarists traded riffs. People from the back of the venue moved in closer, leaning in to take in the magic on stage.
Melvin Taylor’s “Depression Blues” from Albert’s I Got Love album came next, a blues rocker with a funky vibe that could burn a hole in any misconception about the blues. Contrasting Albert’s aggressive wizardry on guitar, Fletcher jumped in with his own solo with a completely different tone and feel, fluid and elegant.
Albert Castiglia is animated on stage, lively and fun. There wasn’t a moment that I doubted he was feeling it. A few antics with the crowd had us all laughing—Albert was having a blast. There’s nothing like watching a great musician enjoying themselves. He’s quite the entertainer.
After sharing that the next tune was written 40 years ago by Buddy Guy and is still relevant today, Castiglia, Fletcher and the band launched into “The Dollar Done Fell” a funkier than funky groove that had all the musicians on stage digging into the rhythm . The room was alive now, some closing their eyes in bliss and nodding to the rhythm and others throwing their fists in the air in celebration of stunning talent. Albert threw himself into it, moving closer to Fletcher to catch the heat coming off that Gibson SG. Together they played call and answer guitar riffs to a crowd that by this time was apoplectic.
If I could have changed anything about the night, it would have been the background of the venue’s stage. Cluttered with disco balls, neon signs, and memorabilia, it distracted a bit from focusing on the band. That said, I felt blessed to be there.
You could feel the electricity in the room. Those standing behind us moved closer to the stage, hooting and hollering with admiration of these two masters and the tight band. “My Woman Has a Black Cat Bone” (Albert Collins) closed out the night.
Did we all want it to go on? Hell yeah.
For more information about Albert Castiglia, see here.
Watch “Big Toe” Albert Castiglia
Watch “Hoodoo Man Blues” Albert Castiglia & Kirk Fletcher Here