By Mark Augustine
For anyone who has even casually watched late night television in past two decades, the name Jimmy Vivino is probably familiar. Since 1993, Vivino has appeared nightly as the lead guitarist in the house band of Conan O’Brien’s various late night talk shows, currently serving double-duty as bandleader of the aptly named Basic Cable Band on O’Brien’s TBS-produced Conan show.
Vivino’s years of experience as a front-man with a daily gig are apparent in the tightness and precision that runs throughout the performance captured on 13 Live. This only amplifies the pleasure when the band digs in and gets its hands dirty. Fat Man bounces with a Dixie swagger that recalls classic Little Feat, and the Funk/Soul staple What Do I Have To Do (To Prove My Love To You) manages that rare feat of nearly bursting at the seems with manic energy while remaining perfectly timed.
The last two tracks on 13 Live are both tributes to the late Levon Helm, which is no surprise given that the album was recorded at the famous Levon Helm studios in Woodstock, NY, shortly after Helm’s passing in 2012. Song for Levon channels the boozy jazz of Dr. John without becoming overly sentimental. But the real gem is the set-closer – a brawling version of The Band classic Shape I’m In.
For years, Vivino has helped infuse originality, grit, and joy into the musical soundtrack of late night television, all of which were in short supply before his appearance on that scene. On 13 Live, Vivino and the Black Italians prove that these virtues extend beyond the boundaries of the television sound stage.