Zed Mitchell – Route 69: Album Review

Simmering, shimmering and shivering guitar from the German guitar maestro Zed Mitchell.

Release Date:  10th December 2020 (CD) / 5th March 2021 (Vinyl LP)

Label: Timezone Records

Formats: CD (12 tracks) / Vinyl (10 tracks)

Prolific is a word that is often banded around a little too liberally, but, in the case of German band leader, singer/songwriter, composer and maestro of the guitar, Zed Mitchell, it’s probably the most appropriate adjective available.  Route 69 celebrates Zed’s 50th year as a musician, it’s his eighth album in the last thirteen years (his last one was the highly acclaimed WOW in 2018) and the twenty-first of his career.  Recorded at Zed’s own Funk Studio in Berlin during 2020, it’s a collection of mellow, well-produced songs that allow Zed the space to show exactly what he’s capable of with a Fender Stratocaster in his hands, and believe me, he doesn’t disappoint!

Originally from Belgrade and now based in Essen, Germany, Zed started his musical journey in 1970.  He’s played all over Europe and, over the years, has worked with or supported the likes of Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Natalie Cole, Santana, Deep Purple and BB King.  He’ll proudly tell you of his work with the Munich Symphonic Sound Orchestra  and he’s even worked with the famed composer and conductor Elmer Bernstein, to come up with the musical soundtrack for the Indiana Jones film.  And what a guitarist he is…!  His various styles have frequently drawn comparisons to those of Mark Knopfler, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, JJ Cale and Chris Rea, and that standard and those styles are all included here, for your delectation.

It’s no overstatement.  Zed plays with a controlled intuition and with awesome dexterity to achieve a clean, tuneful sound that keeps the listener pinned to the chair.  With guitar like that, there’s not really much more required, and the album’s ”other” instrumentation is wisely limited to Zed’s own full and often wonderfully funky bass, some second guitar work from Todor Manojlovic, tasteful and subtle drums from David Haynes and occasional touches of keyboard and sax from, respectively, Sascha Kuhn and Max Schevakowski.  It all works pretty well; in fact, the only thing that doesn’t always quite work, at least to this listener, is Zed’s vocal…  Reputedly the owner of a five-octave range, Zed seems have opted for default Knopfler-like growl for most of the songs.  It works sometimes, but on other occasions it does, perhaps, take up space that would be more rewardingly occupied by yet more of that beautiful guitar!

The songs themselves are all well structured and concise, and the aforementioned influences shine through clearly.  The Robert Cray feel is there from the start on opening track By Sundown You’ll Be Gone and it’s here that we first get to hear that wonderful guitar in the awesome slide solo that is the song’s highlight.  The happy, free and mellow I Like to Drive – I’m Ready to Live gives a taste of the Dire Straits influence before we move on to the funky I’m Still Waiting, a song in which the guitar solo first simmers, then shimmers, then sends shivers down the spine.

The Girl That Broke Your Heart also has a Dire Straits flavour, and a guitar solo that smoulders just as much as Knopfler’s on Brothers In Arms, and Freedom Trail, a real album highlight, is gentle, evocative, peaceful, powerful and life-affirming, with passages of wah-wah guitar that have to heard to be believed.  From My Dreams is comfortable and contemplative with a light, poppy chorus before Midnight Melody, another album highlight raises the bar yet again.  It’s a soft, jazzy, number with brushed drums, a sonorous, ponderous baseline and a sax solo from Max that puts a huge dollop of icing on the top of an already very sweet cake.

Is This Life has a Chris Rea feel and Blue in Your Eyes is enlivened by a sublime solo in which Zed’s guitar does, indeed, gently weep!  The fast, funky, Life Will Find You is the third of the genuine highlights.  Zed and Todor play intertwining guitars on a sophisticated, soulful number with a distinct Robert Cray feel and some nice, choppy, guitar licks that emphasise the vocals.

I Don’t Know is a sad, slow, powerful ballad with an ominous guitar backing that finally breaks through into a surging solo, before things are brought to a close with the funky, throbbing Fake – an upbeat end to an enjoyable album.

Watch the Official video to Freedom Trail, a track from the album here:

Zed Mitchell Online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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