Alligator Records – 2015
12 tracks; 50 minutes
In 2012 Tommy Castro stripped his band down to a quartet, dubbed ‘The Painkillers’. Whilst long-term fans do miss the horns that were such an integral part of the old TCB sound, the new band is clearly easier in terms of touring logistics and Tommy’s songs remain models of how to write material for a blues-rock band with a healthy dose of soul blended in. This new disc is, to these ears, a significant improvement on 2014’s “The Devil You Know” and features mostly original material from Tommy who wrote ten songs, some in collaboration with other writers, with just two covers present. Tommy handles all lead vocals and guitar, with long-standing bassist Randy McDonald, keyboard player Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Bowen.
The CD opens with three typical TC songs: “Common Ground” has a funky backbeat and a chorus with that healthy dose of soul which is emphasized by Tommy’s shimmering rhythm guitar work; “Shine A Light” moves along quickly with Tommy singing over his guitar lines to give a slightly distorted feel before the guitar propels the chorus to great effect; the title track rocks out to a solid riff and swirling keys, Tommy stepping out to nail a short but sweet solo. The versatility of the band is also evident in the gorgeous soul ballad “Died And Gone To Heaven” in which Tommy finds a deeply soulful vocal which matches the emotional lyrics perfectly as Tommy sings of how bowled over he is by his relationship. The following three songs are all Tommy’s own work: “Got A Lot” is pure rock and roll which everyone plays superbly; the band hits a latin groove on “No Such Luck”, as Tommy’s down-on-his-luck character fails to find work or to win at the races; “Two Hearts” is a soul-inflected rocker with choppy rhythm guitar and rocking piano.
The first cover is “I’m Qualified”, once a hit for Clarence Carter, and finds Tommy once more in soul territory, Michael stepping up for an impressive organ solo and follows that with some great electric piano on “Ride” which has some jazzy hues over an insistent backbeat. Tommy and Joe Louis Walker collaborated on the slow blues “Lose Lose” and Tommy takes a leaf out of JLW’s book with some tough guitar playing in his extended solo.
One can detect Rick Estrin’s lyrical cynicism in his and Tommy’s “All About The Cash” which targets war and poverty, Tommy again taking centre stage in his solo. Having demonstrated a wide range of styles to this point The Painkillers show us that they can also handle a classic blues shuffle by running through BB King’s “Bad Luck” to close an impressive album which all blues fans should hear. Recommended!