As the smoke from the drivers in my Infinity
Reference Standard III speakers slowly dissipates
into the air, I’m thinking it must be good to be
Tommy Castro. Tommy and I had a conversation at
the BMAs in Tunica where I told him I thought he had
a better record than Painkiller in him, and
he agreed with me. Painkiller went on to
receive the album of the year that night.
Tommy’s first release on Alligator, Hard Believer,
to me is clearly a better record than Painkiller
and a serious contender for all the gold as well. My
Infinity’s are begging me to not hit “play” again
but we’re going for it.
Tom Poole’s trumpet is front and center as Tommy
tells us about a woman he’d be better off staying
away from. We’ve all met that one devil woman we
can’t run away from and it’s going to end badly.
That’s the premise of our first cut, “Definition of
Insanity.” Blistering notes from Tommy’s strat echo
that premise, “Is it love or madness…we’re together
tonight…we know where it’s headed baby…but its
getting harder to fight!” In this case it’s better
to have loved shortly and intensely than to never
have loved at all.
Confession time appears to be next in “It is What It
Is.” “I was a mover…I was a shaker…you had a
girlfriend….I’d try to snake her…I’ve been lost at
sea…I’ve been lost in space…and when I fall in
love…I’m all over the place!” It definitely is what
it is. “Hard Believer,” the title track, is up next.
“I believe…I believe…you’re the one…I believe…I
believe…my time has come…I’ve been a hard
believer…but my heart has come undone…I believe…I
believe…you’re the one!” Tommy finally feels like
he’s found the one good woman he’s been looking for
and this time, hopefully it will last. We’re early
into this disc and Tommy’s guitar playing is just
dead on. Musically, this disc features some of
Tommy’s best guitar work ever.
“Monkey’s Paradise” cranks up the tempo, and the
horns of Keith Crossan and Tom Poole are back in
play. Here we find Tommy just slightly out of touch
with his reality. “I walk around and mumble…and talk
to myself all the time…I’ve got a real bad case…of
what they call the monkey mind!” There are just days
where life gets in the way of living and taking the
time to sort it all out just boggles the mind.
There’s just not enough caffeine to go around and
make sense out of it all. But it will pass and
tomorrow will be here soon.
Tony Stead provides the keyboard intro for our next
cut, “Ninety-nine and one Half.” Tommy’s in love
again, but its all or nothing. Anything less than
100% won’t work. “Some time a man need…a little love
and affection…yeah…baby…ninety-nine and a half…just
won’t do…I’ve got to have 100…yes I do!” Tommy
cranks up another blistering solo on his Strat and I
know why my speakers surrendered to the aural
onslaught they received from Hard Believer.
Next up is “Backup Plan.” Tommy’s got his eye on a
woman who’s in a relationship but checking him out.
“One day you’ll be free baby…and I could be with
you…now don’t misunderstand…I’m no back door man…but
if things don’t work out baby…I’ll be your backup
plan!” You know he will.
The Dylan classic, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” gets the
Tommy Castro Band treatment next. “You may be a
businessman…or some high-degreed thief…they may call
you doctor….they may call you chief…but you’re going
to have to serve somebody!” The backbeat is funky,
the horns are great, Tommy and the band are just in
fine…fine form. “Trimmin Fat” is up next and Tommy
is pontificating on the state of the state. “I went
down to the supermarket to get a dozen eggs, a loaf
of bread, some milk and a bag of chicken legs. Went
to the counter…didn’t have that much stuff…had a
Franklin in my pocket…figured that should be
enough…that baby rang me up and to my
surprise…$116.00…I couldn’t believe my eyes…guess
I’m going to have to put something back…she
said…son, everybody’s….trimmin fat!”
We shift to high gear on what is my favorite cut of
the disc, “Make It Back to Memphis.” Tommy headed
down to Tunica to play the tables and it got to be a
very long night. “Headed south on Highway 61…been a
long time…since we’ve made this run…they got
riverboat gambling….in Tunica, Mississippi…I’m
praying to God…that Lady Luck is with me!” Tony
Stead’s keyboard work on this tune is phenomenal and
Tommy’s thanking the good Lord that he made it back.
“Wasn’t keeping track…of just how much I
drank…should have stashed another $20 for Ray’s gas
tank…now the needle’s on empty…I can see it by the
light of the moon…if we make it back to
Memphis…we’re going to have to make it on fumes!”
“Make It Back to Memphis” will probably be in strong
contention for song of the year as well.
An Alan Toussaint song, “Victims of the Darkness,”
is tackled next and presents another great
opportunity for the band to feature the horns.
“Victims of the darkness…what will they do….what
will they do?” The up tempo “My Babe” follows.
Keith’s sax is blazing as Tommy tells us about his
girl. “Never could be better…than to see her in a
sweater…and a tight skirt…that don’t fit…she wants
to have fun…people let me tell you, that’s it.
Talking about my baby…not your baby…my baby…she’s so
Hard Believer closes out with a tune written
by Jeff Turmes, “The Trouble with Soul.” Tommy’s
soul is the provider of his moral compass and
sometimes it finds him conflicted. “Just underneath
my heartbeat….the signs are there to see…the trouble
with soul…the trouble with soul…is the trouble with
At this point in the writing season, Hard
Believer is the best disc I’ve heard all year.
Tommy has outdone himself this time with great
support from his band and amazing production work by
John Porter. It’s a disc that is sure to garner
multiple BMA nominations come awards time and
deservedly so. I’ll be in Telluride when Tommy comes
through Phoenix so I won’t be able to congratulate
him in person on his amazing new record. This review
will have to do. Great job, Tommy!!
--- Kyle Deibler