Tommy Castro
" Hard Believer "
Alligator Records

Blueswax 8
Rating 9

Strong New Material, and (mostly) Good Covers too, (09/17/09)

Tommy Castro's debut for Alligator Hard Believer produced by John Porter (B.B. King, Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, The Smiths, Otis Rush, Billy Bragg, Roxy Music) was recorded in Castro's hometown of San Rafael, California. The album's focus is mostly about Castro's soul, fueled by his vocals and powerful and at times over the top guitar work, sensational charts by reedman Keith Crossan and trumpeter/bone player Tom Poole, and those oh so wonderful peculating grooves. From the opening "Definition of Insanity" it's apparent this could be the beginning of a different era for Tommy, as heembraces his Bay Area funk affinity-groove. His guitar work has that Santana emotion. Additionally on this track, note the powerful horn charts which are explosive. The recently departed Stephen Bruton co-authored "It Is What It Is" which works extremely well for Castro's vocals and band. This is a solid Blues burner. Castro's "Monkey Paradise" is definitely destined to be a crowd pleaser at TCB gigs. Tommy's really on his "triple-treat" game here with his vocals, guitar, and funky songwriting skills. But Eddie Floyd/S.Cropper/W.Pickett's "Ninety-Nine And a Half," and Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" should also work well in live performance, but they are too often covered and Castro's versions are somewhat mundane. Conversely; unearthing Allen Toussaint's "Victims Of The Darkness" is ultra hip as are the heady horn arrangements by Crossan and Poole. So is Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley's (The Righteous Brothers) "My Babe," another gem that Castro and his band serve up in rip-roaring fashion. Fellow West Coast bassist and guitarist Jeff Turmes (recently seen with Rick Holmstrom and Stephen Hodges in Mavis Staples band,) smartly closes this heady disc with "The Trouble With Soul," which is a breezy-jazzy-soul affair, that works particularly well for Castro. His vocal range is superb and is something I look forward to hearing more of from Tommy. Note Castro's guitar chops on this left coast Turmes tune, too. By the way, "The Trouble With Soul" deserves to be an instant classic, as it is one cool tune.

New label and some new gel from minor lineup changes in the TCB band are working well on Hard Believer, so much so I feel that the future will continue to burn bright for Castro. Expect major airplay and perhaps some crossover radio play as this disc is a sumptuous mix of (most, but not all) covers, and the increasingly strong songwriting, guitar playing and vocals from Tommy Castro, and his very fine band.

Bob Putignano: