For the past few years, blues superstar Tommy Castro and his houserockin', award-winning, hard working band have not only performed on the twice-yearly Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, but they've also served as the boat's house band. Each night, Castro and crew lay down a little high-octane blues music, and then they back up the assorted performers as well as partake in the late night jam sessions. Word is that everybody – from the fans to the bands – has a real good time on the cruise.
Castro, a two-time Blues Foundation "B.B. King Entertainer of the Year" award winner, has such a good time on the cruise that it often spills off the boat and into blues clubs across the country. Putting together an impressive roster of performers from the cruise, Castro tours as part of what is billed the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue. Much like the famed touring R&B revues of old, every night with Castro and friends is a house party. Castro released a collection of performances from the Revue before in 2008's Command Performance, and as good as that album is, it can't hold a candle to the talent and performances featured on Castro's Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live!
Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live!
Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live! opens with a pair of performances by Castro and band, recorded during the October 2010 cruise. Castro's "Wake Up Call" is a powerful opener, a mid-tempo R&B rave-up that literally exudes soul courtesy of Castro's strong vocals and funky guitar licks and Keith Crossan's blasts of icy-cool saxophone. The band delivers a danceable groove with a snappy rhythm, and Castro's bluesy solo showcases the reason why he's one of the most underrated guitarists on the contemporary blues scene. Ditto for his performance of "Painkiller," later on the album, the bonfire blues-rocker offering one of Castro's most potent vocal performances and solos that will singe the hair from your ears.
A cover of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" is transformed into a blues-gospel tent revival in Castro's hands, the scribe's mid-1970s religious theme bolstered by backing vocals and swinging horns. The song's upbeat performance expands the original into a seven-minute testimony, Castro's inspired vocals and scorching fretwork matched by Crossan and trumpet player Tom Poole's lively hornplay, and a steady, rockin' drumbeat from Ronnie Smith. Michael "Iron Man" Burks follows, the guitarist slowing things down for his "Voodoo Spell," an exciting ten-minute blues-rock jam that is equal parts Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. Burks is another frequently overlooked fretburner, but he imbues the performance here with the blood, sweat, and tears of a live fully lived, an experience that can only be expressed through the blues.
Never Say Never
Joe Louis Walker is one of the most consistent performers in the blues today, and his raucous "It's A Shame" doesn't disappoint. Walker's joyful vocals ride effortlessly atop a slippery, funky groove while his inspired guitarwork soars dangerously through the mix. Crossan and Poole bring some fine R&B horns to the affair, creating a fuller sound behind the singer. By contrast, the great voice of Sister Monica Parker needs no assistance, her "Never Say Never" a moment of pure blues that will send a chill from your ears to your heart. With Castro contributing jazzy, nuanced guitar, and Tony Stead peppering the mix with shards of piano, Parker roars out her tale with authority and emotion.
K.C. siblings and relative blues newcomers Trampled Under Foot blow away a hometown audience with their stammering "Fog," a powerful blues dirge that features Danielle Schnebelen's larger-than-life vocals and brother Nick's fiery fretwork. As good as Schnebelen's performance might be, she lacks the gravitas-by-experience brought to the mic by the great Janiva Magness. With Castro subtly backing her on guitar, Magness belts out a raw reading of "Think," her voice roaring above the song's groove with unmistakable strength of emotion.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
The above-mentioned artists are but a taste of what listeners can expect from Tommy Castro's Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live!, which also features fine performances by Debbie Davies, Rick Estrin, and Theodis Ealey, ending with Castro's inspired cover of Percy Mayfield's blues standard "Serves Me Right To Suffer."
There's not a duff cut to be found among the dozen performances offered up by Castro's Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live!, which is one of the finest live blues albums that you'll ever treat your ears to, and that includes milestones from the likes of Muddy, Junior, and the Wolf. Castro and his band are the perfect hosts, joyously rocking full-tilt when the occasion requires, quietly supporting another artist when it's their turn. Considering the consistently high quality of talent that Castro brings to this collection, you're going to want to hear it sooner rather than later. (Alligator Records, released June 7, 2011)
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