On his first album for Heart & Soul Records, Bay Area bluesman Tommy Castro makes it abundantly clear that there's no room in his soul for blues-lite. Gratitude is marked by its staunch refusal to shove anything but pure, expressively crafted jump blues across the table, all of which, in this case, was written by one of Castro's influences. Backed by a phenomenal band, including saxophonist Keith Crossan, Castro steps his best Albert Collins up to the plate—a fiery guitar style not, thankfully, mired in cliché ridden Texas blues, the West Coast rut or the safety of the Chicago sound. Instead, Castro infuses hints of classic R&B and blues rock into this collection, affording himself songs that virtually stand alone among contemporary blues.
And if he's taken his guitar cues from the late, great Collins, his new album finds him giving props to Sam & Dave, Ray Charles, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and a host of others. When it comes to singing. Castro is among the most soulful blues vocalists to have emerged in the past decade, and his deep, throaty voice is the perfect complement to the ferocity of his guitar work.
In Castro's hands, even the pulse of slow, sweaty blues marches a little differently. His crosshatched guitar passages run in complete, well-constructed musical sentences, punctuated by a tight rhythm section and priceless production. Unison lines shared by guitar and sax only add to the smoldering drama. Call him the new wave, call him the future if you must, but make certain that you've got a ticket to ride. Miss this boat and you just might miss a rare opportunity to experience blues horizons you thought long past.