Tommy Castro and the Painkillers
upwards of 20 albums to his credit it would
require an extensive effort to determine whether
the latest album by Tommy Castro and the
Painkillers is the best by the long-time
rockin' soulful blues artist. Let's
instead just say that I've enjoyed Stompin'
Ground (Alligator) more than any TC album that I
can recall. Suffice it to say, this one's a
The Painkillers are made up
of Castro's usual fine bandmembers (Randy McDonald - bass, Bowen Brown -
drums, Michael Emerson - keyboards), as well as several "A" list guests,
notably David Hidalgo - guitar, Charlie Musselwhite - harmonica,
Danielle Nicole - vocals, Kid Andersen - guitar, and Mike Zito - guitar.
Kicking off the album is a
snaky mid-tempo number, "Nonchalant," backed by a killer horn
section that appears at various spots in the album. This solid group of
horns (Nancy Wright, John Halblieib) wouldn't have sounded out of place
on any number of Stax Records recordings from the '60s or '70s. Castro
continues with some nice blues guitar on the up-tempo shuffle, "Blues
All Around Me," on which he sings about the how the blues keeps chasing
after him in these modern times. Oh yeah, that horn section shines
again, especially on Wright's awesome tenor sax solo.
Castro shows that he's
equally adept at handling a slow soul ballad on "My Old Neighborhood,"
with nice backing from keyboard maestro Emerson and subtle sax playing
by Wright. Here, he goes back in time to reminisce about the stomping
grounds and innocent days of his youth. Castro unleashes some of his
most passionate vocals on this tune. Castro segues into the next number,
"Enough Is Enough," with a John Lee Hooker-style "boogie chillen" guitar
intro and later throws down a killer slide solo.
After beginning Stompin'
Ground with six original compositions, Castro launches into the
first of five straight cover songs with Elvin Bishop & Jo Baker's "Rock
Bottom." It's a mid-tempo blues shuffle on which Mike Zito joins in on
the powerhouse dual guitar intro and also shares vocal work with Castro.
Blues guitar fans will get their kicks on this one, while Emerson also
provides some hot piano work. Ms. Nicole joins Castro for vocals on the
rockin' blues number "Soul Shake." They shout each other into a frenzy
while the rhythm section does their best to try to keep up.
For my money, the best cut
on Stompin' Ground just may be a rendition of Taj Mahal's
"Further On Down The Road," with a funky soulful beat and uplifting
vocals from Castro. Our fearless bandleader comes in with a solid guitar
solo mid-tune while co-producer Andersen adds rhythm guitar and
tambourine. Castro's cover of the hard-driving Buddy Miles stomper "Them
Changes" has been getting plenty of airplay, not surprising with Los
Lobos leader David Hidalgo helping out on both guitar and vocals.
The more laid-back "Live
Every Day" closes out the album, with a guest appearance by Charlie
Musselwhite. Sometimes simple is better, and that's the case here ---
just two blues vets sitting down and making pleasant music together.
I haven't covered all of the
dozen songs on Stompin' Grounds, but take my word for it when I
say that they're all good. If it's not Castro's best album, well then
it's certainly up there.
--- Bill Mitchell