Roadhouse Album Review: Tommy Castro takes a musical journey on “A Bluesman Came To Town”

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers – “A Bluesman Came To Town” (Alligator Records, Sept. 17)

From the raw and throbbing opening track, “Somewhere,” where Tommy Castro lays down a primal blues, to its reprise and resolution on the final cut, Castro’s latest album overflows with tough, funky, rocking, soulful blues and rootsy music. The album tells the passionate tale of a young man drawn to the blues and its long and harrowing road, and his awakening to what the music teaches him.

It’s filled with evocative story-telling; feral guitar solos, risp backing from the Painkillers, and smartly themed original songs. Of course, it helps that the package was produced by ace blues and roots producer, Tom Hambridge.

“I like to keep things fresh and interesting,” Castro says, “Tom and I have talked about making a record together for a long time. Collaborating with him was even better than I imagined. I had an outline for the story and then Tom and I talked it out and the songs just started to organically grow out of each other.” Castro says.

“A Bluesman Came To Town” isn’t a story about me. It’s pulled from some of my friends’ and my experiences though. I’ve seen first-hand for a lot of years what it’s like out there on the road.”

That story tells of a young bluesman who needs to get away from the farm to make his mark, then finds that what he needs in life can be found back where he began.

Each track is carefully crafted as part of that journey, but each song also stands solidly on its own. The songs were written mainly by Castro and Hambridge, with help from Richard Fleming, Terry Wilson and Ron Alan Cohen.

“Somewhere” sets the opening mood of a blues journey about to begin, followed by the title track, where he “heard about a roadhouse a mile outside of town,” and hears the music beckon. The song titles that follow outline the bluesman’s odyssey and almost tell the story: “Child Don’t Go” (with a vocal boost from the powerful pipes of Terri Odabi), “You To Hold On To,” “Hustle,” “I Got Burned,” “Blues Prisoner,” “I Caught A Break,” “Women, Drugs and Alcohol,” “Draw The Line,” “I Want To Go Back Home” (a sensuously soulful, sax-fueled turning point in the journey), “Bring It Back,” and a starkly acoustic version of “Somewhere” that redefines what “somewhere” means.

Castro has always been a thoughtful creator of his music, preferring not to repeat himself, and flex his musical muscles in different directions. “Bluesman” is a perfect example of that philosophy, and shows considerable creativity within a unique concept. It’s a great album.

“Somewhere” (opening track) from “A Bluesman Came To Town”:

JUST FOR FUN: Found while looking up other stuff. Tommy Castro and Deanna Bogart stepping back in time to the 1970ish “Soul Shake” in a post-lockdown show:

JUST FOR FUN, Pt. 2: Soul Shake, as recorded by its creators, Peggy Scott and JoJo Benson, in 1969:

“Bluesman” track list and album information:

1. SOMEWHERE (3:30)
(Castro & Hambridge, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI/Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP)
2. A BLUES MAN CAME TO TOWN (3:58)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
3. CHILD DON’T GO (2:50)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI/Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
4. YOU TO HOLD ON TO (3:54)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
5. HUSTLE (3:37)
(Castro, Wilson & Hambridge, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI/Jesilu Music, BMI/Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP)
6. I GOT BURNED (3:37)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
7. BLUES PRISONER (5:15)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
8. I CAUGHT A BREAK (2:39)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
9. WOMEN, DRUGS AND ALCOHOL (4:20)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
10. DRAW THE LINE (4:15)
(Castro & Cohen, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI/Ron Alan Music, ASCAP)
11. I WANT TO GO BACK HOME (3:42)
(Castro, Hambridge & Fleming, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI) Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP/Richard Fleming Music, BMI)
12. BRING IT BACK (3:43)
(Castro & Cohen, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI/Ron Alan Music, ASCAP)
13. SOMEWHERE (REPRISE) (2:41)
(Castro & Hambridge, Tommy Castro Music admin. by Eyeball Music, BMI/Tom Hambridge Tunes, ASCAP)

PRODUCED BY TOM HAMBRIDGE

Tommy Castro: Guitar and Vocals
Tom Hambridge: Drums, Percussion and Background Vocals
Rob McNelley: Guitar
Tommy MacDonald: Bass
Kevin McKendree: Keyboards
Randy Mc Donald: Bass on “Somewhere (Reprise)”
Bowen Brown: Drums on “Somewhere (Reprise)”
Mike Emerson: Keyboards on “Child Don’t Go” and “Draw The Line”
Keith Crossan: Saxes and horn arrangement on “Hustle”
Deanna Bogart: Saxes and horn arrangement on “I Want To Go Back Home”
Terri Odabi: Vocals on “Child Don’t Go”
Jimmy Hall: Harmonica on “Somewhere,” Background Vocals on “A Bluesman Came To Town”

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