Review By Georgetown Fats
Tommy Castro has earned legions of fans through 20 years of paying his dues on the West Coast. First with the much-loved Dynatones, and then with The Tommy Castro Band, Castro built his rabid following by combining virtuosity on guitar and vocals with countless days spent on the road performing live. Fans of Castro will find much to love as it is more of what they have come to love Memphis Soul with old-school rock & roll. Castro’s detractors will also have plenty of ammunition as even though this is Castro’s first release with Alligator Records, as it is still more of the same.
“Hard Believer” opens with “Definition of Insanity”, a mid-tempo memphis soul tune. It is a tune about a dysfunctional relationship, which has been done before. Castro & band have a very heavy orchestration which there is no note out of place. The horn section has a tight arrangement, Castro’s backing vocalists are mixed low, and there is an emphasis on Castro’s “Memphis Soul” voice. Unfortunately due to the mix, and the tight arrangement and orchestration, there is nothing new to hear.
The second track, “It is, what it is” is another AAA mid-tempo shuffle, bogged down with a heavy hand in the production and enough cliches to supply several more years of American Idol. Castro’s talent is evident, unfortunately so the formula to each Castro original.
The time signature switches up, from 4/4 to 6/8, on “Hard Believer”. But again the tune has the watered down ‘Stax Records’ feel which is commonplace for a Tommy Castro recording. There is an simplistic-yet-unnecessary piano line delivered with a heavy right hand which has all the skill of a child learning how to play chopsticks, more cliches, and even more heavy handedness with the arrangement. I understand this is a Tommy Castro project but a horn solo, or a hammond solo would have been a much-welcomed change of pace.
On a tune I have personally mistaken Buddy Guy for writing, Wilson Pickett’s “99 & 1/2”, though Castro can play the notes on the chart it is clear he shouldn’t. Pickett made his living penning and performing raw-souled tunes, a sort of medium-rare greasy and delicious cheeseburger if you will. Buddy Guy added “hot sauce” to his rendition to the rendition of Pickett’s “99 & 1/2”. Well if Pickett’s original is a greasy cheeseburger, and Guy added the hot sauce, the Castro’s rendition of Pickett’s “99 & 1/2” is an overdone tofu burger.
Castro’s talent is evident throughout this release, but I have come to expect more from Alligator Records. For a label which gained notoriety by being formed to release Hound Dog Taylor recordings and has given a home to contemporary trend-setters “Lil Ed” & The Blues Imperials (as well as many others) “Hard Believer” comes up short.