Tommy Castro – Tommy Castro Presents a Bluesman Came to Town
Alligator Records – 2021
13 tracks; 47:52
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Tommy Castro’s Tommy Castro Presents a Bluesman Came to Town, subtitled A Blues Odyssey is a mouthful of a title, but the concept album is easy to enjoy, with blues-influenced songs in a number of styles, from gospel to Southern rock to country.
Castro is prolific, with 16 albums to his credit since his solo debut in 1994. His work is always honest and straight-forward, so while the idea of a concept album might cause many people to think of progressive rock, Castro’s concept is a simple tale of a farm boy discovering the blues. And the implementation is similarly restrained; Castro tells his story through bluesy guitar, and not a sea of synths.
Castro has a solid voice that works well in a number of musical scenarios. “Child Don’t Go” is gospel, with an infectious energy that spotlights his soulful voice. “You to Hold On To” is a pretty, 50s-inspired ballad that morphs into Allman Brothers guitar work. “Draw the Line” is adult contemporary, like Journeyman era Eric Clapton. The variety is a nice surprise, because one might expect a concept album to get formulaic, as the writer tries to link the songs together. Castro is content to join the songs lyrically, but lets the tracks stand apart musically.
Which isn’t to say there’s no blues on this. “Bring It On Back” uses a wild slide riff right out of the blues classic, “Rollin’ and Tumblin.” “Somewhere” also features slide and harmonica, with plenty of blues, but also a strong country influence. Castro acoustically reprises “Somewhere” at the end of the album, giving it a Delta sound, showing another side of Castro. Recording two versions of the same song works well here, bookending the album, and showing the song’s power by playing it in two different styles.
Ultimately, A Bluesman Came to Town‘s strength is that it’s a well-constructed album that happens to be built around a single theme. But the concept doesn’t define or hem in the record; even if you don’t pick up on the common thread, the album works. The concept is there if you want to see it, but you don’t need to know about it to appreciate Castro’s strong songwriting and impeccable guitar and vocals. Producer/drummer Tom Hambridge also deserves credit for the excellent production and his work co-writing the songs. They’ve crafted something high-concept that flows with a charming feeling of effortlessness.