With his swarthy good looks and ever-smiling visage, Tommy Castro is perhaps the most telegenic blues dude going. NBC realized as much when the network appointed Castro music director of its program Comedy Showcase
. Blind Pig realized it when the label released a concert video to accompany Castro's new CD, recorded live at the Fillmore Auditorium in his native San Francisco.
Castro is more than a pretty-boy charmer, though. He's also a soulful singer, a fleet-fingered Strato-blaster, and a talented songwriter who favors upbeat blues-rock and R&B tunes. Factor in his ultra-tight band, and this is a cat with tremendous crossover appeal.
Live at the Fillmore doesn't deliver anything you haven't heard before. Still, it's a soulful party album, sort of a greatest-hits-live collection that includes five tunes from Castro's last release Right As Rain, an album I thought was too slickly produced. Must say the catchy tunes "Lucky in Love," "I Got to Change" and "Just a Man" are far more soulful on this live set.
The first two cuts "Right as Rain" and "Like an Angel" are pleasant enough, but Castro and company kick it into a higher gear for the funky original "Nasty Habits." Guest keyboardist Jimmy Pugh gets everybody crazy with his burning organ solo, and the band doesn't let up after that. With his covers, Castro touches the three genres that most influence his original tunes: electric blues (with Buddy Guy's "My Time After Awhile" and Albert King's "Can't You See What You're Doing to Me"), rock 'n roll (he offers a danceable version of Little Richard's old song "The Girl Can't Help It)", and funky soul (with his crowd-pleasing take on James Brown's "Sex Machine.")
As Castro points out in the interview included on the enhanced CD, his group is more than a guitar band. Saxophonist Keith Crossan is a muscular blower, and the rhythm section of Randy McDonald (bass) and Billy Lee Lewis (drums) is plenty versatile. Trumpeter Tom Poole teams up with Crossan to contribute some Memphis Horns-style backing, and Jimmy Pugh is one of the West Coast's finest blues keyboardist. But it's Castro's infectious songs, his Stevie Ray-like guitar, and his affecting voice that lead the way.
Some of Castro's music seems a bit too bouncy and pop-oriented (hence its crossover appeal). Furthermore, Live at the Fillmore is far from the classic album many critics believe Castro has in him. But don't let my petty criticisms deter you. This is an enjoyable, upbeat album that should satisfy most fans of the blues, rootsy soul and classic rock.