Tommy Castro & the Painkillers / Tommy Castro

Method to My Madness

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On 2014's The Devil You Know, California bluesman Tommy Castro pared his band back to a quartet called the Painkillers and returned his guitar playing and singing to the forefront of his attack. Though the album was chock-full of guest stars, its arrangements were largely uncluttered -- no horns, strings, or other gimmickry. Method to My Madness strips back the veneer even further. The tightrope of energy, grit, and inspiration on display in these 12 tunes -- ten originals and two excellent covers -- are usually reserved for live shows. For the first time, Castro has produced an album by himself. Recorded at Ari Rios' Laughing Tiger Studio in San Francisco, he and the Painkillers -- bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson, and drummer Bowen Brown -- cut the music live from the floor with minimal overdubs. Much has been made of Castro's vocal style being influenced by the singers from the vintage Stax/Volt era. While that's somewhat true, Method to My Madness reveals, perhaps for the first time, an even deeper debt to funky soul and country-blues singer Delbert McClinton. "Common Ground" is a swaggering gospel-tinged soul blues. The melody and choral refrain nod at Sly Stone, but Castro lets his McClinton flag fly with a gritty delivery atop a cracking snare and driving Wurlitzer groove. "Shine a Light" is dirtier; it's a razor-wire, rocking soul-blues with double-timed drumming, bumping bassline, and killer slide guitar and B-3 work, with great backing vocals from Rios and Amber Morris adding gospel fuel to the fire. The title track is a wrangling guitar-driven boogie, where funky rock meets the 12-bar blues head on. Castro testifies in his delivery, leaving no room for doubt about his intentions and attitude. While "Lose Lose" is a simmering "Stormy Monday"-esque deep blues, its proceeding tune, "Died and Gone to Heaven," is a swelling, souled-out, rousing, gospel-tinged love song. Both tracks offer excellent guitar breaks. "Got a Lot" is a rave-up, hard-grooving house rocker. Clarence Carter's "I'm Qualified" is thoroughly reinvented via stomping, hard, bluesy funk and it works as well -- if not better -- than the band's live rendition. On the cover of B.B. King's standard "Bad Luck," Castro pays warm tribute to the giant, and lets his biting guitar lead the attack, pushing his vocal and the band in the process. It's a hell of a send-off to the late bluesman, and it closes Method to My Madness on a high point -- one of many on one of Castro's finest recordings.

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