Review: Tommy Castro – Hard Believer

Posted on: Saturday, Jul 3, 2010

“Hard Believer”
(Alligator Records: ALCD 4931)

A mainstay on the blues scene in the San Francisco Bay area since the late 80s, Tommy Castro brings his soulful guitar chops and great voice to this first  release on Alligator Records, “Hard Believer” – a 12-song mix of rocking roadhouse blues, tasteful soul and more, recorded in his home town of San Rafael, and produced by in-demand John Porter, who has previously worked with the likes of Buddy Guy, BB King, Keb Mo and many more.

It’s hard to find fault here with some immaculate playing from Castro and his fine band, and an inspired choice of material – some original, and some inspired covers, all ideally suited to his rich, emotive voice and tasteful guitar work. A string of releases on a variety of labels and non-stop gigging have cemented his place as one of America’s favourite bluesmen, and I must add, well deserved.

The opening “Definition Of Insanity” rides on a nice Latin groove, with searing Santana-like guitar solo, with telling contribution from Tommy Castro’s long-time sax player, Keith Crossan, and Lenny Castro’s percussion – with the mood changing on the rocking “It Is What It Is”, co-written by the late Stephen Bruton, to whom the album is dedicated. The title cut “Hard Believer” has a classic Memphis soul feel, and heartfelt vocal from Castro.

His own “Monkey’s Paradise” again rides on a nice funky groove, before a dip into a soul classic on “Ninety-Nine And One Half” from the pen of Messrs. Floyd, Cropper & Pickett, and very nicely covered here, with a fierce guitar solo. Castro joins forces on a song written with another Californian blues stalwart, and one of the best writer’s around, Rick Estrin, on the blues of “Backup Plan”, driven by the horns of Keith Crossan, and also Tom Poole.

One of my favourite Bob Dylan tunes, “Gotta Serve Somebody” is a standout, with some searing Albert Collins-style licks and another irresistible locked-in groove and feel from Castro and the band. All concerned put the ‘pedal right down’ on the storming roadhouse rocker “Make It Back To Memphis”, with Tony Stead’s piano to the fore, before some New Orleans funk on the Crescent City legend Allen Toussaint’s “Victim Of The Darkness” and a soulful romp on The Righteous Brothers “My Babe”.

This fine release ends on a high note, and more Latin grooves, on the “The Trouble With Soul” from the pen of another great writer, Jeff Turmes – a lovely tune for a nice summer’s day, with customary warm and rich vocal from Tommy Castro . . . . “Hard Believer” comes highly recommended, check it out!


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