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The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue - Live

Featuring Tommy Castro

Alligator Records

12 tracks/72:03

Some years ago, Roger Naber came up with the idea of staging a floating blues party, with a ship full of blues fans and outstanding musicians. And so the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise was born, growing to be a year-round endeavor with two cruises plus traveling tours under the R&B Cruise banner. These revues feature a mainstay of the cruises, the Tommy Castro Band, with numerous special guest musicians.

This new release from Alligator Records provides a fine sampling of what you can expect to hear if you ever book passage on one of Naber’s weeklong orgy of blues music. Castro’s veteran band – Keith Crossan on sax, Tom Poole on trumpet, Tony Stead on keyboards, Scott Sutherland on bass and Ronnie Smith on drums - serves as host for most of special guests. Taken primarily from the Alligator roster. Their tight interplay, honed from many nights on the road, brings out the best in all of the performers. The performances come from last year’s October cruise as well as from a variety of clubs and theaters around the country.

Castro is the headliner, so he gets four tracks starting out with “Wake Up Call”. The leader’s voice rings out loud and clear over some sharp horn riffs before he cuts loose with his guitar followed by a hot sax solo from Crossan. Next the band delivers a very funky rendition of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” with Castro’s spirited vocal making this cut a highlight. Later the group romps through “Painkiller”, the title track of a previous release, and finishes the disc with “Serves Me Right to Suffer”. Castro sings a verse before he picks out the familiar John Lee Hooker boogie riff on his guitar, trading licks with Smith on drums.

Sista Monica Parker takes her time at the start of “Never Say Never”, building her vocal over some fine keyboard work from Stead until she unleashes the full power of her voice at the end. On “Think”, Janiva Magness takes some chances, stretching notes around the beat while the band struts along. The three Schnebelen siblings from Kansas City, better known as Trampled Under Foot, perform without the Castro band. They turn in an impressive performance on “Fog”, a group original that finds Danielle proving that Sista Monica isn’t the one that can shout the house down.

Debbie Davies employs a slow-burn approach to “All I Found” as she describes her search for a good man, using her guitar to exorcise the pain of failing to find one.

A favorite of cruisers , Michael Burks offers an example of his high intensity shows on “Voodoo Spell” backed by Stead, Sutherland and Chuck “Popcorn” Louden on drums. As the crowd cheers him on, Burks eases into the song until the band kicks it into high gear after the second verse. There is plenty of room for Burks’ incendiary guitar work over the ten-minute cut, with Michael switching to slide guitar in the middle of his final solo. On “It’s A Shame”, Joe Louis Walker serves up a reminder of what a captivating singer he is. Rick Estrin has written a number of humorous tunes and “My Next Ex-Wife” is one of the best. His wry vocal gets a lift from the horns and his band mate, Chris “Kid” Andersen, shows off his prodigious guitar skills. One name many listeners may not recognize is Theodis Ealey . Once you hear his soulful singing and guitar playing on “This Time I know”, you will be searching the internet for more material from this energetic performer.

Many blues fans look forward to a time when they can experience a blues cruise. In the meantime, this collection provides a vivid portrayal of the kind of musical treats that make the cruise a special experience. And setting aside the cruise storyline, this release offers plenty of exceptional blues music for you to savor.

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.

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