Tommy Castro / Tommy Castro & the Painkillers

The Devil You Know

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San Francisco's Tommy Castro has been at this roots and blues-rock thing for some 20 years now, and while at one time he was heralded as the next great guitar slinger, such claims only last until the next guy comes down the line with good tone and flashy technique, and since that seems to happen every other week, it's probably good that Castro brings a whole lot more to the plate than just his guitar playing. There's his voice, for one thing, a soulful and versatile blue-collar growl that sounds like Bob Seger working his way through the Stax/Volt catalog, and he's also turned into a pretty good meat-and-potatoes songwriter, too, although yes, it's his guitar playing that keeps the pot boiling. Castro has been using horn sections and larger ensembles on his recent albums, but for this set he relies on his crackerjack new touring band the Pain Killers, comprised of longtime Castro bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Byron Cage, and keyboardist James Pace, and the pared-down band brings a fiery garage energy to everything here, making this one of Castro's finest releases. Although there are also a lot of guest stars making appearances on The Devil You Know (Marcia Ball, the Holmes Brothers, Joe Bonamassa, Mark Karan, Tab Benoit, Samantha Fish, Tasha Taylor, and the J. Geils Band's Magic Dick among them), they don't overrun the project, and this is Castro's show all the way, from the soulful, gospel-laced "Second Mind" and "The Whale Have Swallowed Me" through a cover of Wet Willie's "Keep on Smilin'," the bouncing, swinging "Mojo Hannah" (featuring Marcia Ball's piano and vocals), and the powerful "Two Steps Forward" (graced by the Holmes Brothers). Things close out with 2013's single "Greedy," which spotlights what a tight and garage-edged band the Pain Killers are. Yeah, this album is full of the blues, but it's also like a full-charged blue-eyed R&B and soul review, and the new configuration of Castro's band has him fired up and roaring on the Stratocaster with a renewed sharpness.

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