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October/November 2017
 

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers
Stompin' Ground
Alligator Records

Tommy Castro

With 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 killer!

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

 

 

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