This is Tommy Castro's 13th release and, having been hosted by Blind Pig and Telarc, he's landed where he really should be, the estimable Alligator Records, home to a spate of the finest blues around. The boy's trod the block more'n a few times and has achieved status the old-fashioned way: playing the hell out of the club circuit and building a loyal following that has grown and grown. With Hard Believer, the listener gets the summation of his career, a compendium of unorthodox and oft burning guitar leads; a sometimes friendly and heartfelt, sometimes rough as gravel singing voice; and a catchbasin for soul, funk, dirty white blues, roadhouse rock, and a skosh of balladry.
The very first cut lays out the guy's fascinating wont to toy with time structures and phrasing in solos that arrest the ear, causing an inadvertent "What the hell was that?!" at the audacity of his lines and intonation. In the gent's long-practiced hands, those six strings are like a greased pig he sometimes can only barely control…with immensely pleasing results: a little chaos, a smudge of sass, that trademark electric squeal, and neon backdrops. Then there's the chopped shout version of the classic Ninety-Nine and a Half, sounding like a take Otis woulda done, so close to the bone that you can almost hear Etta in the back of the mix.
He also drops a few chili peppers into Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody, boogieing the cut up, but the bulk of the disc is comprised of his own tunes co-written with various composers. They're every inch as solid as the chestnuts. At times, as in Trimmin' Fat, echoes of Elvin Bishop are exceedingly strong, lyrically and musically, reeking with down-home nasty goodness and grease, interlocking with the rhythm guitarist for some tasty atmospheric matrixing.
I've only one suggestion here, 'cause I'm a greedy bastard when it comes to guitar-centered bands (and this disc has a to-die-for colorative horn section as well): we need a really generous dose of Castro's leads next time out. This is a great CD, but the guy has a very different instrumental hand and it's not merely the audience wants that sort of thing but also fellow axeslingers. Not one syllable of criticism is to be read in that, but rather…well…if ya already have one bar of gold, why not ask for two?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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