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CD Review: Big Joe Fitz

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This is Big (2010, Independent)

Rosendale’s Big Joe Fitz belongs to a long line of R&B performers equally at home onstage or behind a radio microphone. When he’s not spinning the blues on WDST, he’s singing it on stages throughout the Hudson Valley. Of course, he knows his stuff from years on the station’s “The Blues Break,” and it shows with his new album, This Is Big. The mellow Fitz goes right to the well, with selections from Ray Charles, Jerry Ragovoy, Doc Pomus, Dr. John, Charles Brown, and Eddie Vinson. His backing band on most tracks includes bass buddy (and album engineer) Robert Bard, drummer Tim Whalen, and ace New Paltz guitarist Mark Dziuba. Unfortunately, Fitz only pulls his harp out for “Last Go Round” and the album wants for more of those tasty, bent reeds. Vocally, Fitz clearly goes for traditional R&B tropes and he’s got just enough smoke on tunes like “Lonesome Train” to both rock and roll.

Occasionally, though, he seems more concerned with hitting the right notes than with letting his soul show. On Harlan Howard’s classic “The Chokin’ Kind,” Fitz swerves wide of the kind of emotion the song requires, even demands. Artists as varied as Waylon Jennings and Joe Simon have done right by this one, but Fitz nearly makes it chipper. He does get it right, though—and how—on “Hard Times” (with pianist Jumpin’ Jack), “Tweedle Dee,” and the opening “Leap of Faith.” On the last, Fitz goes toe to toe with Delbert McClinton’s reading and still manages to leave his own funky stamp. www.bigjoefitz.com.

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