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Tommy Castro - Hard Believer

Alligator Records

12 songs; 49:55 minutes; Suggested

Style: Soul, Rock and Roll, R & B, Blues

I saw women line up at the front of a sun drenched stage to see Tommy Castro in a tight black T-shirt playing a white Stratocaster guitar. Handsome as a mountain, Castro was a charismatically entertaining guitar hero. Those who may be new to Tommy Castro will not learn about his six string sex from this horn laden Alligator Records debut.

As a guitar fan(atic), it took three or four listens before I truly warmed up to this outing. Great quality is never an issue as Castro is one of the best contemporary singers in the Blues market. And, recording quality is guaranteed whenever Alligator puts out a release. One can count on high caliber studio work, engineering, overall production (this time by legendary John Porter), mixing, and mastering.

A more appropriate title for this set might be "Castro Re-visits Memphis Soul" as many of the tracks pay homage to that classic sound. There is even a convincing cover of Wilson Pickettís "Ninety-Nine and One Half."

My radio partner Shuffle Shoes and I first played the title track "Hard Believer." A mid tempo, emotional plea to a chosen lover, the song exemplifies the finest the disc has to offer. First, when Castro sings "I believe, I believe...," he can stir feelings in a jade statue. The opening horns, played and arranged by Keith Crossan and Tom Poole, swell up wonderfully to meet the first vocal lines. Throughout, their placement accentuates without overwhelming. Working with the rhythm section of drummer Ronnie Scott and bassist Scot Sutherland, Tony Stead on piano strokes a subtle and steady pattern that is also integral, not superfluous. And, at mid song, we even get a soaring guitar solo to seal the deal. Kudos all around.

During a fast tempo set on our radio show, we played the Castro / Hayes Rock and Roll original, "Make It Back to Memphis." It is the kind of cut that has íem smiling as they leave the dance floor! For more fun, Tommy puts some clever lyrics into "Monkeyís Paradise," which is another boot scooting workout.

Instructors of Current Events classes can use "Trimminí Fat" to add some fun as they illustrate universal circumstances and feelings during this Great Recession. Producer John Porter adds some ear grabbing slide guitar and joins Tommy in a great twin guitar harmony hook that helps open the track. "I didnít lose my job / Cause I know where itís at," he sings, and of course itís been exported, "they do your job in China for ten bucks a day."

"Backup Plan" gives us a little more of Tommyís guitar work in a number that creates an interesting twist on the back-door-man idea. Co-written with Rick Estrin, Castro sings, "Now donít misunderstand / Iím no backdoor man / But if things donít work out, baby / Iíll be your backup plan."

While this CD probably will not win Castro any new converts, his long time avid and marginal fans should find his deeper excursion into the Soul sound interesting and with plenty of satisfying moments.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Thursdays from 7 - 8 pm and Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL

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