Archived News & Reviews

TOMMY CASTRO BAND NOMINATED FOR 5 BMAs in 2011

– Tommy was been nominated as B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year.
– The Tommy Castro Band was been nominated for Band of the Year
– Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue – Live!! was been nominated for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year
– Keith Crossan was been nominated for Instrumentalist – Horn

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TOMMY CASTRO BAND WINS 4 BMAs in 2010

Band of the Year!

BB King Entertainer of the Year – Tommy Castro

Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year – Tommy Castro

Contemporary Blues Album of the Year – Hard Believer

I’m sitting here in my hotel in Memphis, trying to think of what to say about last night.

All I really was hoping for was to win Band Of The Year, because my band works so hard and brings their best to the stage night after night. We backed up several artists throughout the year as the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, many times without rehearsals. They do their homework and always make me proud.

We all did our part in the making of Hard Believer. The rest of the awards did surprise me. I’m humbled, honored and full of gratitude today. Thanks to all of you who voted for us. Thank you for your support, encouragement and all the very nice comments on my Facebook wall, congratulating us.

I really couldn’t do any of this without all of you in my corner.

Tommy

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CONGRATULATIONS TO SCOTT SUTHERLAND

Backroads Blues Best of the Blues 2011 winner for Best Bass Player is Scot Sutherland!
Click Here for a list of winners.

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MORE PRAISE AND AWARDS FOR HARD BELIEVER

The results of the 2010 Living Blues Awards Readers’ Poll are in and the Best New Release Blues Album of 2009 is:  Tommy Castro’s Hard Believer from Alligator Records!

The 2010 Blues Blast Music Awards were announced Thursday night October 29, at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago and the Tommy Castro Band was honored with the Best Blues Band Award!

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TOMMY & “PAINKILLER” WIN BLUES MUSIC AWARDS:
At the Blues Music Awards on May 8, Tommy won BB King Blues Entertainer of the Year and Painkiller won for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year!

“This is the future. It’s very positive and fruitful. The blues is in good hands. When someone has the right intentions, with sincerity, you can never go wrong. This is the person who has the voice, the sound, and the intentions, to touch everybody’s heart.”
– Carlos Santana

“Tommy Castro is at the top of the list of emerging blues stars who will carry the torch for the generations to come.”
– Norman Davis, Blues Writer/DJ/Host of Midnight Flyer

“One of the most authentic blues guitarists around. I think Tommy Castro has potential to be the next contemporary blues giant … he has so much charisma … he’s real, this is the real thing …”
– Bob Jones, Program Director KDIA Radio

“One of the highlights of Sunday’s (San Francisco Blues Festival) show was the performance by Tommy Castro. Castro and his band really lit a fire under the crowd with their full-on blues rock sound … Castro, not a note escaping his black Fender Stratocaster, got the crowd on its feet … the performance by Castro and his red-hot blues band was the high point of the (Bammies) awards show.”
– Craig Marine, San Francisco Examiner

“The crowd is still talking about his (Tommy Castro’s) electrifying performance … Tommy and his band are nothing short of great.”
– Niecy Durley, Associate Director, Monterey Bay Blues Festival

“The Tommy Castro Band is not only one of the most popular groups to come out of San Francisco, but this band is also on the verge of stardom … I predict that Tommy Castro will be the next rising star on the blues horizon. He’s got it all!”
– Tom Mazzolini, Producer San Francisco Blues Festival & Blues Programmer, KPFA Radio

“… Castro, current king of the San Francisco blues scene, is an elastic, chillingly intense vocalist and scorching guitarist who knows just when to lay back and when to invade …”
– Lee Hildebrand, The East Bay Express

“There are a lot of people in this world who play the blues, but then there are those who are the blues and Tommy Castro is the blues …”
– Herbie Herbert, Herbie Herbert Management

TOMMY WINS INTERNATIONAL SONGWRITING COMPETITION

May 2012 - Tommy’s song and title track of his acclaimed album Hard Believer won the Best Song in the Blues Category for the 2011 International Songwriting Competition

LRBR Live! CD NOMINATED FOR A BMA

Award-winning blues and R&B guitarist/singer/songwriter Tommy Castro has become the honorary Captain of The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises, where famous blues stars perform together on the open seas of the Pacific and the Caribbean. Inspired by the thrilling, no-holds-barred jam sessions on the ship, Castro decided to bring the excitement and musical spontaneity of these gigs on the road. Leading the Revue, he brings the spirit and energy of the onboard jamming to audiences all across the country.

This album is a white-hot collection of the highest highlights from the Revue’s recent live performances. In addition to Castro’s stellar fretwork and blue-eyed soul vocals, the album features harmonica master Rick Estrin, charismatic vocalist Janiva Magness, guitar giant Michael “Iron Man” Burks, award-winning string-bender Debbie Davies, soul manTheodis Ealey, R&B belter Sista Monica Parker, acclaimed singer/guitarist Joe Louis Walker and the 2008 International Blues Challenge Award winners, rising stars Trampled Under Foot.

Tommy Castro is on a non-stop mission to bring his blistering blues, soulful vocals and stellar band to as many people as possible. Between his fiery shows—supported by his Blues Music Award-winning band —and his leading role in The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Castro is succeeding beyond all expectations. In May 2010, he won four 2010 Blues Music Awards—including his second B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year Award (the highest award a blues performer can receive) plus Contemporary Blues Male Artist Of The Year and Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year (for his latest Alligator studio CD, Hard Believer).Blues Revue says, “Tommy Castro can do no wrong…soulful, heartfelt vocals, and exquisite, stellar guitar work. A seamless blend of blues, gospel-flavored R&B, soul and roadhouse rock.”

TOMMY CASTRO BAND WINS FOUR BMAs

Band of the Year!

BB King Entertainer of the Year – Tommy Castro

Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year – Tommy Castro

Contemporary Blues Album of the Year – Hard Believer

I’m sitting here in my hotel in Memphis, trying to think of what to say about last night.

All I really was hoping for was to win Band Of The Year, because my band works so hard and brings their best to the stage night after night. We backed up several artists throughout the year as the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, many times without rehearsals. They do their homework and always make me proud.

We all did our part in the making of Hard Believer. The rest of the awards did surprise me. I’m humbled, honored and full of gratitude today. Thanks to all of you who voted for us. Thank you for your support, encouragement and all the very nice comments on my Facebook wall, congratulating us.

I really couldn’t do any of this without all of you in my corner.

Tommy

TOMMY CASTRO FEATURED ON COVER OF 20th ANNIVERSARY ISSUE OF BLUES REVUE.

Tommy is on the cover of this month’s 20th anniversary issue of Blues Revue Magazine.  This was be the third time Tommy has been on the cover of Blues Revue.

TOMMY CASTRO FEATURED IN EDGAR AWARD WINNING NOVEL

Bruce DeSilva has a new crime novel, Rogue Island, which was published in hardcover on Oct. 12, 2010.  The hero of the story is a big Tommy Castro fan who spends time listening to his music while driving around in his beat-up Ford Bronco.

The book is getting huge pre-publication buzz with rave reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist, and advance praise from 14 big-name thriller writers.

For more information on this novel, please visit the author’s website:  http://www.brucedesilva.com

HARD BELIEVER AWARDS & NEWS

– “Hard Believer” has been on the Billboard Blues Chart for over 30 consecutive weeks!

– Tommy Castro Band wins 4 Blues Music Awards:  Band of the Year, BB King Entertainer of the Year, Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year, Contemporary Blues Album of the Year (Hard Believer).

– Tommy’s feature on The House of Blues Radio Hour aired on 3/13 & 3/14. The HOB Radio Hour airs on 200+ stations across the U.S. and Canada. You can listen to or download the podcast of Tommy’s interview here:
www.thebluesmobile.com/briefcase/interviews.php

– The 2009 House of Blues Listener Poll has placed Hard Believer at #2 on their top 10 CDs of 2009 list.

– Hard Believer is listed # 1 of the Top 5 Blues albums in Guitarist Magazine in France.

– “Hard Believer” was the #93 Top Seller out of all CDs sold in the San Francisco Bay Area during the first full week of the new year.

– In international news, Tommy was nominated for a 2009 Maple Blues Award in the Best International Artist category. The Maple Blues Awards are Canada’s national blues awards program. Their goal is to promote blues music across Canada, and to recognize outstanding achievement in the field.

– “Hard Believer” is number 3 on Mojo’s Best of 2009 Blues chart.

– “Hard Believer” is #11 Roots Music Report Blues Chart

– Click here to read the feature on Tommy in Guitar Edge magazine.

HARD BELIEVER DEBUTS AT #2 ON BILLBOARD BLUES CHART

The Tommy Castro Band’s new CD is getting rave reviews and topping the charts:

#2* Debut Billboard Blues Chart
#9* Debut Billboard New Artist Chart (Heatseeker Chart)
#28* Debut Billboard Indie Artist Chart

A fantastic debut week for Tommy scanning 2,000+ units on his Alligator debut’s first week in stores. A strong start on the digital front as well as with online retailers. It was a busy blues week with new releases from Delbert, Robert Cray and Robben Ford – all of which were beat out by Tommy! Congrats!

A stellar review in Blurt (9 out of 10)

Tommy Castro’s first release for the Alligator label might just be the best yet from this veteran Bay Area blues artist. Castro has long been known for his mixture of blues, soul and rock. His world-wide touring earned him a 2008 Blues Music Award as Entertainer of the Year. But Hard Believer showcases Castro’s soulful voice, searing guitar and excellent song writing ability as it reaches new heights. Castro pays homage on this CD to the Memphis sound while not being afraid to update it for a new century.
Read the full review here – http://www.blurt-online.com/reviews/view/1392

Debuts #46* Streetpulse Weekly Independent Retail/Independent Artist Sales Chart

Radio Charts:
#2 Roots Music Report Blues Chart (#15 Debut LW)
#82 CMJ Indie-Only Radio Select Album Chart (#94 Debut LW)
#57 FMQB Non-Comm Chart (#95 Debut LW)
#141 FMQB Top 200 Airplay Chart (#167 Debut LW)

Nationally Syndicated Radio:
The House of Blues Radio Hour (TBS)
The single “It Is What It Is,” from Tommy’s Alligator debut, Hard Believer was the lead track on Blues Deluxe (8/23 – 29). You can listen to Blues Deluxe anytime by going tohttp://www.rootsmusicreport.com
Tommy’s single “It Is What It Is,” was featured as the House of Blues Radio Hour Blues Breaker (8/8 – 9)

“HARD BELIEVER” DEBUTS AT #1 ON AMAZON.COM’s CONTEMPORARY BLUES CHART AND #2 on iTunes Blues Chart

The new CD, “Hard Believer” from the Tommy Castro Band debuted at number one on the Amazon.com Contemporary Blues chart on August 11, 2009 as well as number 5 on the Blues chart and has risen to #170 on the overall sales rank chart of all CDs on Amazon.com.  The CD also debuted at #2 on iTunes Blues chart.

ALLIGATOR RECORDS SETS AN AUGUST 11 STREET DATE FOR
TOMMY CASTRO’S HARD BELIEVER

Alligator Records has set an August 11 street date for Hard Believer, the label debut from blues, rock and R&B singer, songwriter and guitarist Tommy Castro. Castro, winner of the 2008 Blues Music Award for Entertainer Of The Year, is famed not only for his hard-hitting, impassioned vocals, soaring guitar work and his blues-infused, rocking R&B sound, but also for his striking, original songwriting and exhilarating stage show. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, “Castro navigates seriously funky Southern soul, gritty big city blues and scorching rock…his silvery guitar licks simultaneously sound familiar and fresh.” Castro, booked by the famed Rosebud Agency, will be hitting the road hard — kicking off his Hard Believer tour on August 9 in Duluth at the Bayfront Blues Festival — playing festivals and clubs all across the U.S. and Canada.

Hard Believer was produced by John Porter (B.B. King, Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, The Smiths, Otis Rush, Billy Bragg, Roxy Music) and recorded in Castro’s hometown of San Rafael, CA. The album is anchored by Castro’s soul-baring songs, filled with profound emotion and fueled by Castro’s soulful vocals, powerful guitar, and propulsive rhythms. But what really drives the songs home is Castro’s telepathic interaction with his band. The group operates as a single engine, firing on all cylinders, sometimes pushing the pedal to the floor, other times slowing things down for a simmering ballad.

Born in San Jose, California in 1955, Castro first picked up a guitar at age 10. He came under the spell of Eric Clapton, Elvin Bishop, Mike Bloomfield and other blues rock players early on. As he got older, Castro moved forward by investigating the past, falling in love with the blues guitar work of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and singers like Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. By his late 20s he was playing in a variety of San Francisco-area blues and soul bands.

Castro joined Warner Brothers artists The Dynatones in the late 1980s. The much-loved rocking soul band had a huge fan base and toured the U.S. constantly. He honed his chops with the band on the road for two years, performing live all across the country and backing major artists like Carla Thomas and Albert King. He formed The Tommy Castro Band in 1991 and won the Bay Area Music Award for Best Club Band in both 1993 and 1994. With his local fan base quickly expanding, he released his debut album, Exception To The Rule, in 1996 on Blind Pig. He began touring nationally with his band, picking up new fans everywhere he went. The album won the 1997 Bay Area Music Award for Outstanding Blues Album, and Castro also took the award for Outstanding Blues Musician that same year.

In the mid-1990s The Tommy Castro Band served as the house band for three seasons on NBC Television’s Comedy Showcase (airing right after Saturday Night Live), bringing him in front of millions of viewers every week. During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Castro released a series of critically acclaimed CDs for Blind Pig, Telarc and 33rd Street Records as well as one on his own Heart And Soul label. In 2001 and 2002 the legendary B.B. King asked Castro to open his summer concert tours. Castro received an open invitation to join the king of the blues on stage for the nightly finale.

Publications across the country, from The Washington Post to The San Francisco Examiner, have sung Castro’s praises. Guitar Player called Castro “the hardest working bluesman on the scene today.” The Philadelphia Inquirer declared, “Castro plays infectious, roaring roadhouse romps with incendiary licks and a touch of New Orleans soul.” Carlos Santana, with whom Castro has performed, said, “Tommy Castro has the voice and the sound to touch everybody’s heart.” With Hard Believer and plenty of high-profile tour dates to follow, believing in the prodigious talent and unbridled energy of Tommy Castro is anything but hard.

TOMMY & “PAINKILLER” WIN BLUES MUSIC AWARDS:

At the Blues Music Awards on May 8, Tommy won BB King Blues Entertainer of the Year and Painkiller won for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year!

 

AllMusic.com Review

The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live!
by Hal Horowitz

A direct descendant from the traveling bundled artist packages of the ’60s right down to its retro “hatch show”-styled cover art, Tommy Castro and his band play host to a relatively diverse assortment of high-energy blues and soul acts. The concept originated on the yearly Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise where such musical collaborations are typical. Castro’s concept was to take that concept on the road, resulting in this dozen-track live album cherrypicked from various tour stops. It’s a rollicking, very plugged-in affair, perhaps not surprisingly geared toward some of Castro’s current crop of Alligator labelmates such as Janiva Magness, guitarist Michael Burks, and ex-Little Charlie & the Nightcats frontman-gone-solo Rick Estrin. Still, a handful of non-Alligator names like Debbie Davies, Joe Louis Walker, and “Sista” Monica Parker also appear. The varied collective features youngsters Trampled Underfoot as well as lesser-known veteran Theodis Ealey, both of whom handily hold their own next to the more popular participants. Castro takes lead vocals on four tracks, and he, along with his horn-enhanced band, provide backup for the majority of the other artists. Everyone is at the top of their game with an electricity and vein-popping excitement that can only be generated when musicians feed off each other live. Castro in particular seems to relish his master of ceremonies role, charging through a soulful version of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and a sizzling “Serves Me Right to Suffer.” The latter suddenly shifts tempos from a cracking slow blues to a driving “Radar Love” boogie beat and displays his sometimes underappreciated guitar skills. Most impressive, and rather unexpected, is the number of females in the lineup, a refreshing change from the typically male-dominated blues field. Not only do guitarist Davies and vocalist Magness turn in some thrilling performances (Magness on a tough, horn-punched, swampily rearranged version of James Brown’s “Think”), but Monica Parker’s slow blues boils, and Trampled Underfoot’s bass-playing lead singer Danielle Schnebelen’s sexy/angry vocals will have you checking the liner notes to see who this newcomer is. Estrin adds both humor and harp to the generally guitar-oriented lineup with “My Next Ex-Wife,” and Michael Burks’ ten-minute grinding blues “Voodoo Spell” will make an instant believer of anyone who might not be familiar with his slashing guitar attack. The disc moves from one highlight to the next with the primary detriment being that it’s not a double CD to provide more of what’s here. Perhaps volume two is in order.

About.com Review

Tommy Castro has a problem: he’s the victim of his own success. As problems go, it’s probably not a bad place to be, but the question remains. Just how do you top yourself when your last album won a coveted Blues Music Award as “Contemporary Blues Album of the Year” and you walked off with the “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” Award as Castro did in 2008?

Tommy Castro’s Hard Believer

To say that Castro succeeded in his goals for Hard Believer would be an understatement. The album is a white-hot collection of spirited, unpretentious performances, each song approached by Castro and his flamethrower band with the ferocity of a hungry heavyweight-class prizefighter. Given the energy and passion imbued in these songs by everybody involved, it’s clear that Castro and the boys feel that they still have something to prove, and rather than rest on their considerable laurels, they’ve delivered another standard-setting musical masterpiece.

Tommy Castro

Tommy Castro
Photo courtesy Alligator Records

Blues, Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Just as Castro promised, Hard Believer is an inspired collection of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll, and what’s surprising here isn’t that they’ve managed to find a way to top the sound and fury of Painkiller, but that they – Castro and his incredible band, again working with noted producer John Porter – make it seem so effortless, so casual that they can perfectly replicate not only the sound, but the lifeforce of the styles they inhabit as easily as pulling on a favorite t-shirt. “Definition of Insanity,” for instance, is a funky throwback to the 1970s with a slinky groove, blasts of silky hornplay, Castro’s gruff-but-soulful vocals, and a bit of clever lyrical wordplay.

The title track is a burning ember of soul worthy of Otis Redding, the band delivering a deep groove while Castro’s vocals sound like a cross between Otis and Frankie Miller. A cover of the Wilson Pickett/Eddie Floyd R&B rave-up “Ninety-Nine And One Half” is spot-on Memphis soul served up with a side o’ greens, while Castro’s spry take on Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” is both reverential and possessed by a higher power. Castro’s originals are particularly strong this time out, “Trimmin’ Fat” is a funny story-song with a swaggering attitude and Castro’s scorching fretwork and “Make It Back To Memphis” is a rollicking honky-tonk barn-burner with a rockabilly heart and oodles of blue-eyed soul. Somewhere up above, Charlie Feathers is smiling….

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Tommy Castro isn’t a pure bluesman, but you’ll hear the spirit of pure blues in the raucous musical hybrid that has become his trademark sound. There’s plenty to love on Hard Believer, from the band’s energetic and lively performances, to Castro’s inspired choice of cover tunes and his own considerable original songs.

As deep as the muddy Mississippi and as wide as the entire United States, Hard Believer is a big-hearted celebration of American music, and from blues and soul to R&B and rock, Castro and his band of merry fellow travelers kick out the jams with a joy and affection that is downright infectious.

Washington Post Review

Tommy Castro’s “Hard Believer” marks a debut of sorts. The veteran roadhouse-blues rocker is recording for a different label these days, Alligator, with the help of producer John Porter, whose extensive credits include collaborations with the diverse likes of Buddy Guy and Elvis Costello.

Still, anyone who has enjoyed Castro’s recordings over the years will find “Hard Believer” reassuringly familiar. Here’s a blues musician who clearly knows his strengths and how to capitalize on them. A soul vocalist who occasionally brings to mind Delbert McClinton, Castro wouldn’t have any trouble fronting a top-notch band without ever playing a note, yet his guitar work and songwriting are equally impressive. Prime example: “Definition of Insanity” concerns a mutually destructive relationship, and the mounting tension eventually ignites a Santana-esque guitar solo. Not all the songs are originals. Among the tunes soulfully covered by Castro are Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and Allen Toussaint’s “Victims of the Darkness.” Castro also has a way with the lighter side of the blues, as evidenced by the album’s all-too-topical, recession-inspired novelty, “Trimmin’ Fat.”

No, there’s nothing here that will shake the faith of Castro’s longtime hard believers.
– Mike Joyce

Review from Blueswax

Blueswax Rating:  8
Reader 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 a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at blueswax@visnat.com.

Review from Blurt

Tommy Castro’s first release for the Alligator label might just be the best yet from this veteran Bay Area blues artist. Castro has long been known for his mixture of blues, soul and rock. His world-wide touring earned him a 2008 Blues Music Award as Entertainer of the Year. But Hard Believer showcases Castro’s soulful voice, searing guitar and excellent song writing ability as it reaches new heights. Castro pays homage on this CD to the Memphis sound while not being afraid to update it for a new century.

Listen to the title cut, close your eyes and you will be convinced that you are listening to Otis Redding singing in 1967. “Hard Believer” is one of the greatest songs Castro has ever written, which is saying something. Castro’s plaintiff, soul dripping vocals display not only the influence of Otis but other blues/soul legends like Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton and Wilson Pickett. Castro even does an excellent job of covering one of the Wicket Pickett’s songs on this album: “Ninety-Nine and One Half.”

Soul music was not just great emotional singing, however. Where would Stax Records be without the horn section? And Hard Believer is filled with tremendous horn work from Keith Crossan and Tom Poole. And just as with the legends of soul, Castro knows how to use the horns as perfect counterpoint to the vocals, not so much as a “call and response” of classic gospel/blues, but as a way of underlining the feeling of the song. The horns fill the spaces within the songs and grab at your heart.

Another classic element of soul music was that at a time of political turmoil when American cities burned each long hot summer, the Memphis sound was a sound of hope. On “Hard Believer” Castro sings, “Lost my faith in miracles, but here I go believing again.” This is songwriting that fits today’s world.

But Castro is not just a great soul singer, he is also a great guitarist. And on songs like the up-tempo “Definition of Insanity” and the rock/shuffle “It is what it is”, Castro gets a chance to display his guitar.  Another standout track here is “Trimmin’ Fat”. Castro shows an ability to update soul with his blistering slide which comes right out of the blues/rock idiom. His writing addresses the systematic destruction of American jobs that had taken place in recent years. This is not a nostalgia trip album. Castro sings, “They do your job in China for 100 bucks a day. You better come down and get your last week’s pay. Now I did not lose my job. I know where it’s at. Everybody’s trimmin’ fat.” This is timely topical blues for the first decade of the 21stcentury.  The song fades out with Castro asking, “What about my 401 K? How ‘bout that boss man? We could give him a little less money and that would make a nice big job for me.” Tell that to the banksters and crooks at Citibank and Goldman Sachs. Castro probably won’t be invited to play that protest song at any well paying corporate gigs.

Castro wrote six of the 12 tracks on Hard Believer. Besides the Pickett cover, he also includes covers of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” as well as a brilliant fast-paced Alan Toussaint song, “Victims of the Darkness,” and “My Babe” by the Righteous Brothers. The production here is excellent and the sound is lush. The album was produced by John Porter, who has worked with artists including Elvis Costello, Roxy Music, B.B. King and Keb Mo.

After 20 years as a solo artist and 13 albums, Tommy Castro is just hitting his stride. He is one of the greatest blues guitarists, songwriters and entertainers in the world today. Hard Believershows us why and gives a hint of the great work he is about to produce with Alligator.

Standout Tracks: Hard Believer” “Trimmin’ Fat” “Backup Plan”
TOM CALLAHAN


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