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Hard Believer

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Album Review

You might think that Castro's first album recorded for mighty blues indie Alligator — and twelfth overall — would mark a departure for this longtime rocking soulman. Despite a fuller sound, fleshed out with Lenny Castro's percussion and boosted by an ever-present horn section led by longtime cohort Keith Crossan, this is another typically solid effort from the singer/guitarist. Perhaps it's unfair to expect that Castro would somehow break free of, expand, or alter the blue-collar persona he has cultivated over his solo career as he shifts to a higher-profile label affiliation. Veteran producer/musician John Porter returns to join Castro's strong, husky vocals — a cross between Delbert McClinton, James Brown, and Bob Seger — to a rather slick, radio-friendly approach that buffs off the frontman's natural grit, arguably overly so. Every track is tweaked to perfection with keyboards and brass charts, leaving little to chance or room for the music to breathe. It's a marked change from Castro's anything-goes concerts where the songs are tightly rehearsed, yet open for improvisation. Studio sets are naturally more sterile, but there remains a nagging feeling that this is too studied for his style of soulful rock. That's abundantly clear on his cover of the Wilson Pickett chestnut "Ninety-Nine and One Half," a natural song for his gutsy vocals but performed in a version that pales next to Pickett's spine-tingling original. Still, when the singer dives into the slow blues of "Backup Plan" all the pieces fit, and Castro's John Fogerty-styled vocals rip into the tune with the kind of aggression generally missing from the musical backing. Covers of Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" and the Righteous Brothers' rollicking "My Babe" bring out the inherent Memphis R&B grease of the former and the churchy fun of the latter without messing with the original concepts. "Trimmin' Fat" is a fun, swampy, party-rocking new tune that tries too hard to force a concert singalong of its title. Much better is Allen Toussaint's "Victims of the Darkness," a 1972 gem that benefits from Castro's sympathetic reading. Blues lovers hope the journeyman performer will someday break into the mainstream, and perhaps albums like this one will hasten that. But Hard Believer doesn't capture Castro's powerful concert persona, and anyone that has experienced his live show can't help but be slightly let down by this well-crafted, professionally recorded and produced, if somewhat disappointing release.


Born: 1955 in San Jose, CA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

According to all the press and hype and hoopla for a time during the 1990s, Tommy Castro was pegged as the next big star of the blues. Long a favorite among Bay Area music fans, Castro -- in the space of two album releases -- took his music around the world and back again with a sheaf of praise from critics and old-time blues musicians alike. His music was a combination of soul-inflected rockers with the occasional slow blues or shuffle thrown into the mix to keep it honest. His vocals were laid-back...
Full bio
Hard Believer, Tommy Castro
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  • 29,99 zł
  • Genres: Blues, Music, Rock
  • Released: 11 August 2009

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