The Muddy Waters-style "I'm Gonna Walk Outside" that comes a bit later is another fine slow blues track, with some particularly good work on keyboards from Reese Wynans, but, ever the showman, Walker offers a whole lot more in between, moving from one distinct sound to another, from the fun, in-your-face, destined-to-become crowd favorite "Stick a Fork in Me" (we can just imagine Walker closing his live sets with this one) much in the style of Hellfire's "Too Drunk to Drive Drunk", to a doo-woping take on the Jerry Lee Lewis classic "Don't Let Go" (Jesse Stone) that finds Walker slipping into deep-voiced Elvis mode, to the raucous party jam "Soul City", through which Walker takes us on a world tour of the soul-filled cities he's played (sorry, fellow Pittsburghers, but this is one list we didn't make, with Walker bypassing the Steel City on his way from "Cleveland, Ohio, to New York City, and Philadelphia, PA").
Also included are the Robert Johnson-like riffs and feel-good shuffle of "Love Enough", a breezy, bubblegum pop version of the Rolling Stones' open road number "Ride On, Baby" - the sweet sounds of which help to soften such biting lyrics as "you may look pretty, but I can't say the same for your mind" and "By the time you're 30, gonna' look 65" - and a rocking "Ramblin' Soul" featuring more terrific keyboards from Wynans alongside some killer guitar. Closing out the album with the pyschedelic 70s/80s-sounding rocker "Not in Kansas Anymore" and quiet, gospelish "Keep the Faith" - this time with Wynans on Hammond organ, Walker ensures Hornet's Nest is one that will keep critics and fans alike buzzing for a long time to come.
When we talked with Lancaster Roots and Blues organizer Rich Ruoff a few weeks back by email, he noted that he doesn't do things halfway. This past weekend, we got to see just what he meant when we and a few thousand other blues and roots fans descended on downtown Lancaster for the inaugural offering of the festival, which included an impressive two nights of live music featuring more than 50 musical acts across nine stages in five different venues.
As promised in its name, blues was a big part of the weekend: even bigger than on what we can report, in fact, with a number of quality acts running in overlapping time slots, forcing us, for example, to pass up performances from the likes of Steve Guyger & the Excellos, Big Joe and the Dynaflows, Clarence Spady, and Dr. Harmonica and Rockett 88 - and that was all just during the 10 o'clock hour Saturday night, while we were either waiting for or in the midst of taking in a set from the Johnny Winter Band with special guest James Cotton. We don't regret for a moment our decision to stick with the headliners, but if ever there was a case to be made for human cloning, this surely was it.
Fortunately for us, each of the acts we did get to see throughout the weekend were solid ones, starting with a superb opening set from the Heritage Blues Quintet. After a 45-minute delay as a result of traffic into Lancaster, the band - made up of Chaney Sims on vocals and handclaps/tambourine, father Bill Sims Jr. on vocals, guitars, and handclaps, Junior Mack on guitars and vocals, Parisian Vincent Bucher on harmonica, and Barry Harrison on drums - took the Steinman Hall stage with the work song of "Go Down Hannah", one of several numbers performed this night from its Grammy-nominated debut And Still I Rise, along with the slow, Mississippi blues of a Mack-sung "Clarkesdale Moan" and the much more uptempoed "Get Right Church", "C-Line Woman", and "Catfish Blues", with the female and male Sims on vocals, respectively, for the last two. Unfortunately, the late start meant that was all of the quintet's performance we got to hear, as by then it was already time to make our way to the Convention Center for an hour-plus set from smooth-voiced Louisiana bluesman and guitarist Chris Thomas King that included such gems as the funky "Da Thrill is Gone (From Here)", the slow, gritty "Baptized in Dirty Water", and a more traditional "John Law Burned Down the Liquor Store", in addition to a short solo portion without his band.
From there, we headed just downstairs to the Convention Center's smaller stage to catch a few songs from guitarist and singer Tom Principato, which reminded us that we really should spend a bit more time exploring his catalog, before we ventured off to a club called the Federal Taphouse for Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, featuring Monster Mike Welch on guitar. As great as they sound on recordings, this band is even more entertaining live, as they demonstrated on this night through a pair of terrific 45-minute sets. Kicking things off on the swinging "I'm Having a Ball" (Johnny Young), the band rolled through a nice mix of other great classics and originals, including Junior Wells' "Hoodoo Man", a more country-flavored "Blues Stop Knockin'" (Lazy Lester), and "What Have I Done Wrong" before Welch stepped up to the mic to sing and play Muddy Waters' "Sail On", with Anthony Geraci banging away on the keyboards.
After closing out the set on "Someday Someway" and a short intermission, the band returned for an equally energetic second set, starting on "You Give Me Nothing but the Blues", followed by a fiery "Step Back" and the creeping blues of "Sad Sad City". Along the way, they also hit on Otis Rush's "You Know My Love", the Robert Lockwood Jr. classic "Gonna Ball Tonight", and Little Walter's "Mean Old World" that allowed Norcia to show his chops on harmonica one last time before calling it a night.
The festival resumed Saturday evening with a smoking performance from Samantha Fish at the city's Chameleon Club, where the blues-rocker blew through a bunch of songs from her latest album Black Wind Howlin', including the fiery opener "Miles to Go", groove-filled "Foolin' Me" that saw Fish bring out her cigar box guitar for the first time, and in-your-face "Go To Hell" to the breezy country sounds of "Kick Around", a rocking "Sucker Born" (also on cigar box guitar), and the crawling title track. Switching to an oil can guitar for "Gone for Good", Fish then proceeded to offer a few solo numbers in Charley Patton's "Jim Lee Blues" along with a sensitive take on the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" before the band returned to help her close out the show with such gems as a slowed-down, powerful version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" and the Black Sabbath rocker "War Pigs".
Much of the remainder of our evening was spent at the Convention Center, where we first caught a rare reunion appearance from 80s/90s rockers Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, who we're pleased to report can still put on one hell of an entertaining show, and then the evening's headliner in blues guitar legend Johnny Winter and his band, joined on this stop by harmonica great James Cotton.
Somewhat a cross between fellow Philly pop-rock outfit The Hooters and their blues-rocking neighbors to the east George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Conwell and the Rumblers tore through an energetic 80-minute set that began on the shuffling "Tonight's the Night" and hit upon such songs as "Everything They Say is True", "I'm Seventeen", "Gonna Breakdown", "Walkin' on the Water", a "Workout" that saw Conwell venture out into the audience, and their biggest hit "I'm Not Your Man", with the band returning for a two-song encore of the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" and the ballad "If We Never Meet Again". (You can see the full setlist - as reported by none other than The BluesPowR Blog - at the Tommy Conwell-focused blog Audio Rumble).
That of course set the stage rather nicely for the Johnny Winter Band, which kicked things off in a rocking manner with "Johnny B. Goode" followed by "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" before James Cotton joined for a few numbers, including a "Got My Mojo Workin'" that was terrific once the stage crew got Cotton's microphone working. On the eve of both Winter's 70th birthday (from here, they headed to New York for a star-studded birthday celebration at B.B. King's Blues Club Sunday night, complete with a Texas-shaped cake) and this week's release of the four-disc box set True to the Blues: the Johnny Winter Story (which we'll explore in more detail in the coming weeks), the band worked their way through a stellar set of blues and rock standards, including Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor", "Bony Moronie", the Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash", a "Don't Take Advantage of Me" that morphed into "Gimme Shelter", and another Stones classic in "It's All Over Now", with plenty of fine contributions from guitarist Paul Nelson (as well as bassist Scott Spray and drummer Tommy Curiale) along the way. Winter switched to his signature Firebird guitar and welcomed Cotton back to the stage for the last two songs of the nearly 90-minute set, Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited".
We closed out the festival at a new club called Tellus Three Sixty, where we listened to a few Delta soul-filled tunes from the "Arkansas Tornado" Lonnie Shields, backed by a seven-piece band of two guitars, drums, keyboards and three horn players. After a couple of swinging instrumentals from the band, the guitarist and singer kicked off his set with the funky title track off his Keeper of the Blues album, followed by songs like the feisty "Everyman Needs a Good Woman" and the slow blues of "Man is Under Pressure".
As busy as the festival was for us, it's pretty astonishing to think that what we saw accounted for less than one-fifth of the weekend's schedule, which also included acts like Edgar Winter, Loudon Wainwright, Lake Street Dive, the Tim Warfield Organ Band, Bill Wharton the Sauce Boss, James Day & the Fish Fry, Sweet Leda, the Martini Brothers, and Beth Sorrentino, to name just a few. Whether future years will offer quite as extensive a range of performers is ultimately up to Ruoff and his fellow organizers to determine, but we'd have to think that the number of acts is one area where Ruoff can easily afford to go halfway, especially if he's able to continue bringing in the kind of musical talent and crowds that he did last weekend.
It may have been a bit warmer everywhere this weekend, but nowhere was it hotter than in Lancaster, PA, where thousands of fans converged for the inaugural offering of the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival featuring more than 50 roots music artists across nine stages, including the likes of Johnny Winter and James Cotton, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Edgar Winter, Loudon Wainwright, the Meditations Reggae Band, Samantha Fish, Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, Tom Principato, the Tim Warfield Organ Band, the Martini Brothers, and very recent Late Night with David Letterman musical guests Lake Street Dive, to name just a few.
Even focusing mostly on blues performers, we weren't able to see nearly as many of the acts as we would have liked, but what we did see was all pretty spectacular, including Friday night performances from the Heritage Blues Quintet, Chris Thomas King, Tom Principato, and Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, followed the next night by smoking sets from Samantha Fish, Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, the Johnny Winter Band with special guest James Cotton on harmonica, and a musical nightcap from Delta soulman - "the Arkansas Tornado" - Lonnie Shields.
We'll tell you all about it - as well as give you more of a look at the weekend in photos - in the coming days.
If you've somehow missed reading - either here on our blog or elsewhere - about the immense talents of UK guitarist and singer Matt Schofield, this week presents a terrific opportunity to catch up, with the release of Schofield's fifth studio album Far As I Can See.
Like his earlier efforts, Schofield's Provogue Records debut finds the musician blending elements such as jazz, soul, and funk with a strong blues base, joined this time around by bassist Carl Stanbridge, Canadian drummer Jordan John, and longtime Schofield band organist Jonny Henderson. As usual, Schofield's presentation is much more about technical style than it is flash, offering plenty of solid - but never overpowering - guitar solos, while Henderson also is afforded more of a chance to shine, not only in the way of more prominent organ parts, but also showing his hand on such related instruments as piano, wurlitzer, and clavinet.
"From Far Away" kicks off the album with just the right balance of passion and punch, including some delightful grooves from Schofield, before the band slips into one of the set's bluesiest numbers with the shuffling funk of "Clean Break", followed soon after by the first of only two cover songs, a slowed-down, impassioned take on Albert King's "Breaking Up Somebodies Home" that includes the first use of horns on a Schofield record as well as some soulful background vocals.
The band slows things down even more on the creeping, nine-and-a-quarter-minute "The Day You Left", then moving to the jazzy-turned-rocking instrumental "Oakville Shuffle", a sort of modern-day "Green Onions" featuring a guest appearance from fellow UK guitarist Denny Ilett. If you're looking for just one song that speaks to all that Schofield & co. are capable, the disc's funky seventh track - the uptempo "Hindsight" - is most likely it, again incorporating some nice horns, while "Everything" brings things back to a simpler, though no less entertaining, level with hand claps and organ. Drummer John chips in a bit more on vocals for a breezy cover of the Neville Brothers classic "Yellow Moon", with the swinging "Johnny B. Goode"-style "Tell Me Some Lies" and the slow grooves of the first-take, Hendrix-like "Red Dragon" helping to close out the project.
For those new to Schofield, Far As I Can See is as good a place to start as any, but don't stop there: this is the latest in a series of superb recordings from the Brit whose vision and talent have earned him a role as a major player in helping to carry the blues forward, with the band also slated for a North American tour beginning in March. If it's a lively, refreshing batch of contemporary blues you're seeking, you need look no further than Far As I Can See.
They say we're in the Year of the Horse, but so far 2014 is looking a lot more like the year of a whole different kind of animal to us, like maybe an Alligator - with the recent release of Tommy Castro's The Devil You Know - or perhaps even a pig, with Blind Pig Records offering a pair of hot new releases of its own recently with the latest projects from harmonica ace Billy Branch and his band the Sons of Blues as well as guitarist Damon Fowler.
Their debut on the Blind Pig label, Blues Shock is the first recording from Branch and his Sons of Blues (S.O.B.s) in a decade, following 2004's As the Years Go Passing By. Originally formed in 1977 as a band of rising young Chicago bluesmen, including second-generation blues players Freddie Dixon (son of blues great Willie Dixon) on bass and Lurrie Bell (son of harmonica player Carey Bell) on guitar, the Sons of Blues may have changed out personnel over the years as the actual sons moved on, but still have one terrific sound, rolling here through nearly a dozen tracks in a way that only a genuine Chicago blues band can.
That ranges from such swinging tunes as the Willie Dixon-penned "Crazy Mixed Up World", the keyboard- and harp-driven instrumental "Back Alley Cat" that features Justin Jon Kopp on upright bass, the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic "Function at the Junction" - complete with congas, tambourine, and bongos, along with some snappy piano and rich background vocals - and the delightful, double-entendred boogie "Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn", one of several songs to also include some impressive horns, to the slow blues of the Branch original "Slow Moe" belted out by drummer Moses Rutues, to the soft, serene instrumental "Song for My Mother" that closes out the album. Along the way come shout-outs to Chicago blues institutions both past and present, including Branch's mentor Willie Dixon, Elmore James, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy's Legends, Kingston Mines, and of course Bronzeville's Palm Tavern, the inspiration for Branch's beautiful, sentimental salute to the tavern's longtime proprietor on "Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time", which Branch has said may be "the best song I've ever written" and that features Johnny Iguana on Hammond B3 in addition to incorporating some nice cello, violin, and background vocals.
The album starts on the funky, Dr. John-meets-"Back Door Man"-sounding "Sons of Blues", followed a few songs later by a driving title track that offers some particularly impressive guitar riffs from Dan Carelli. Fellow Chicagoan Ronnie Baker Brooks joins the band on vocals and guitar, while keyboardist Sumito Ariyoshi switches to organ, for a cover of Bobby Bryant's "Dog House" featuring some soulful interaction between Branch and Brooks both musically and vocally. Also included is a damn fine cover - one of the best we've heard - of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" with the blasts from Branch's harp nicely complementing the song's customary killer guitar riffs to help lift it to a whole new level of greatness.
Combining a great variety of Chicago sounds with Branch's always-reliable work on both harp and vocals, we think you'll agree that Blues Shock is one highly entertaining offering from this talented group of S.O.B.s.
We haven't had the chance to write much here about the rising star that is Damon Fowler, but the Florida singer and guitarist's new album Sounds of Home gives us the perfect excuse. Already his third solo album for Blind Pig, Sounds of Home catches Fowler taking a break from a successful collaboration with fellow guitarist JP Soars and keyboardist Victor Wainwright in the form of the much-acclaimed Southern Hospitality. Recorded and produced by guitarist Tab Benoit at Tab's Whiskey Bayou Studio in Louisiana, the album includes 11 roots-soaked tracks, all but three written at least in part by Fowler, several with Benoit.
If you're looking to compare Fowler to some more established blues names, Benoit is of course a good place to start, along with the likes of Mike Zito, Eric Lindell, and the bluesy side of Gary Clark Jr. A downright superb collection of tracks, Sounds of Home stretches from such upbeat numbers as the breezy, open-road grooves of "Spark" and similar Gulf Coast-style romp "Where I Belong" - one of three songs with Benoit on acoustic guitar - to slow countrified ballads like the lap steeled grunge of "Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me" and the sweet "Do It for the Love" featuring Benoit on pedal steel, to all-out blues-rockers as Johnny Winter's "TV Mama" and the driving Fowler/Benoit masterpiece "Grit My Teeth".
Fowler's work on guitar, Dobro and lap steel is exquisite, and his vocals versatile and strong, also displaying the ability to present lyrics that resonate with the common man, offering such sentiments as "I don't read my mail, and I sure don't answer the phone/ I'm not good with people, but I can't stand being alone" on "Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me" and "my blood is like a freight train, my ears are like a bell/ I don't hear what you're sayin', but I know it all too well/ many times I have stood here, while you are throwing stones/ this time I've had enough dear/ I grit my teeth and I'm gone" on "Grit My Teeth", while lyrics like "more at home in a room full of strangers, than I am at a table full of friends/ my mother warned me of the dangers, living the life I'm livin'/ thought I had it all/ all had me" only help add to the gritty intensity of the opening "Thought I Had It All".
The groovy title track is something of a mix of Gary Clark Jr. and Steve Miller, with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux joining on vocals as well as on tambourine, while Benoit also assists on background vocals for a trio of songs, including a sensitive, fairly true take on the Elvis Costello hit "Alison", before Fowler closes with a plucky, Taj Mahal-style version of the traditional gospel song "I Shall Not Be Moved", again featuring Benoit on both acoustic guitar and background vocals.
With a future in the blues as bright as the sun that shines in his native state, Fowler provides a whole lot to write home about on Sounds of Home.
Any Pittsburghers who chose to spend their Sunday night watching figure skating from Sochi or the GRAMMY salute to the Beatles missed a show of olympic proportion from another fab four up in Blawnox, when Tommy Castro & the Painkillers returned to Moondog's for a CD release party celebrating their latest album The Devil You Know (read our review of the record here). Officially released in January, the album features guest appearances from the likes of Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit, the Holmes Brothers, Joe Bonamassa, Samantha Fish, Tasha Taylor, and Magic Dick. One of the challenges of such a guest-heavy album, of course, is how well those same songs will translate to the band's road shows, but we're pleased to report that the Painkillers had no problems delivering a solid set of songs off the record, with the rest of the band - bassist Randy McDonald, pianist James Pace and drummer David Tucker - all pitching in musically and on background vocals to help make the tunes nearly as satisfying as on the album itself.
Kicking off the night on the uptempo shuffler "Meanest Dog in Town", Castro and crew quickly tore into the powerful title track from the new album, followed by a funky "The Whale Have Swallowed Me" that saw Pace adding an extra dose of funk on keyboards while Castro played away on slide. Throughout the evening, the band hit on seven more of the album's thirteen tracks, including "When I Cross the Mississippi", "She Wanted to Give it to Me", "Mojo Hannah", a "Medicine Woman" complete with samples of Samantha Fish's vocals from the record, "Two Steps Forward", "I'm Tired", and a "Keep on Smilin'" that proved one of the biggest hits of the night.
Interspersed with those were perennial crowd favorites like "Take Me Off the Road", "High on the Hog" and "Nasty Habits". As good as the newer songs are, it's still always a treat to hear Castro take on such blues classics as Buddy Guy's "When My Left Eye Jumps" and the boogie-to-driving-rocker "Serves Me Right to Suffer" (John Lee Hooker) on which the band closed out its hour and 40 minute set, returning for a one-song encore of Taj Mahal's "Leavin' Trunk".
If you still haven't picked up a copy of the Painkillers' new album and/or found your way to one of their shows, we have no choice but to insist that you stop what you're doing and head out to do it now. Should anyone inquire as to where you might be going, this is one time it just may be alright to tell them The Devil made you do it.
Last summer, we told you about a multimedia blues project called True Blues featuring the likes of Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Phil Wiggins, and Guy Davis. In addition to the true gem of a CD (of which everyone should have a copy), a DVD is also completed and on its way, while members of the project continue to take their music to different cities around the U.S. as part of a tour. This past Saturday was Pittsburgh's turn to get the True Blues, when Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Guy Davis visited the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland for a show sponsored by the Pittsburgh Folk Music Society Calliope, with each of the musicians performing a solo set before they came together for a few songs at night's end.
Davis was the first to take the stage, playing a half-hour set that started on the uptempo country sounds of "Maggie Campbell Blues" before diving into a few numbers from the True Blues CD with the creeping, scratchy-throated "Saturday Blues" and ambling "That's No Way to Get Along" (Reverend Robert Wilkins). From there, the modern-day troubadour introduced some harmonica to the guitar-and-vocals mix with the sweet diddy of an original "Love Looks Good on You", then standing and subsequently moving out to the audience's front row for the Bumble Bee Slim tune "Bumble Bee Blues".
The son of famed actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Davis himself has developed quite a knack for working the crowd, injecting plenty of stories and humor throughout his performance, including observing, while tuning his guitar for the racy "Bumble Bee Blues", that "This is not the kind of song where you want a defective G string". Putting down the guitar, Davis closed the set with a stompin'-good tribute to harmonica ace Sonny Terry in "Did You See My Baby".
California native Hart was the next up, kicking things off with the slow blues of "Mama Don't Allow" before hitting on such treasures as "Them Fair Weather Friends" and "Big Mama's Door", all the while combining some impressive guitar talents with his trademark leathery vocals. But the highlight of the 35-minute set for us came with the closing "Gallows Pole" (Leadbelly), probably the first song we can remember hearing from Hart a few decades back and one that he also revisits on True Blues.
Harris concluded the solo performances with a short but inspired 20 minutes of material that started on a "High Fever Blues" that could easily be mistaken for something from Charlie Patton but that Harris himself actually wrote when sick with the chicken pox, serving as a prime example of the genius of Corey Harris (who, in 2007, actually was recognized as a genius when he was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellowship for his commitment and innovation in helping to carry the traditional blues into the 21st century). That was followed by the poignant, close-to-home lyrics of "Fulton Blues", an uptempo "Too Tight Rag" (Blind Blake), the haunting "Devil Got My Woman" (Skip James) and a dark, creeping "King Cotton" before he welcomed Hart and Davis back to the stage for a few numbers.
As good as each of these guys is individually, they're a delight to see playing together, taking turns on solos and vocals through such songs as Skip James' "He's a Mighty Good Leader", a "Little Red Rooster" that found Davis back on harmonica in addition to guitar, and an encore of "Hoochie Coochie Man". In fact, if we had one criticism of the show, it would only be that we didn't get a bit longer of a combined set from the group than the 20 minutes or so they provided here.
Of course, that just may be a case of us looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth; these guys could have played all night and it still probably wouldn't have been long enough for some of us. Shows and performers like this simply don't come around often, so when they do, you want to take in as much of them as you can get.
Fortunately, there's that DVD on the way to help extend the experience, but in the meantime, be sure to catch these guys if you can. Individually as well as collectively, they are - as advertised - true blues.
Having spent the past few decades toiling in the blues, San Francisco singer and guitarist Tommy Castro is something of what you might call a "devil you know" in the genre. Whether seeing him live or listening to one of his albums, fans know they can always rely on Castro to deliver a solid mix of blues, soul, and R&B sounds, including an abundance of hard-working grooves and superb lyrics.
A while back, we told you about Castro's new, scaled-down band the Painkillers, a bit of a "devil you don't know" to be sure, although early indications - such as the band's 45 single "Greedy" - were that these guys were plenty impressive.
Fortunately, there's no need to decide between the better of the two in this instance, with Castro and the band together in full force on their debut album The Devil You Know, released last week on Alligator Records. And, like the place the devil calls home, this one is a scorcher.
Joined by guests that include Tab Benoit, Marcia Ball, Joe Bonamassa, the Holmes Brothers, Samantha Fish, and Magic Dick, among others, the four-piece band tears through a baker's dozen of high intensity, groove-filled tracks, including nine originals either penned or co-written by Castro.
It all kicks off with the devilishly good title track - a tough-as-nails guitar-driven rocker with such lyrics as "the devil that I know, is a cheater and a liar/ now why would I go jumpin', from the pan into the fire?/ but if I do, you better get on your knees and pray/ when you dance with the devil, you only have hell to pay" - that sets the stage magnificently for what's to come, from the slick uptempo R&B grooves - including some from Robert Cray keyboardist Jim Pugh on organ - of the soulful rocker "Second Mind", all the way to the greasy closer "Greedy", the lyrics of which present a scathing commentary on the evils of corporate excess.
Joe Bonamassa joins on guitar for a shuffling take on Savoy Brown's "I'm Tired", with other covers including the album's breeziest number in J.B. Lenoir's "The Whale Have Swallowed Me" - a swaying duet with R&B legend Johnnie Taylor's youngest daughter Tasha Taylor that also features some gritty guitar and funky keyboards; a soulful, J. Geils-style work-up on southern rockers Wet Willie's "Keep on Smilin'"; and a "Mojo Hannah" (the Neville Brothers, Marvin Gaye) with a Dr. John-ish twist, thanks in part to the addition of Marcia Ball on both piano and vocals.
"Center of Attention" is an unrelenting, in-your-face affair, while Alligator labelmates the Holmes Brothers lend some background vocals, and J. Geils Band's Magic Dick some harmonica, for a similarly hard-driving "Two Steps Forward". Castro's rapping vocals on "She Wanted to Give It to Me" help give that track a bit of a J. Geils sound as well, with Tab Benoit adding some Cajun seasoning on both vocals and guitar for a mighty "When I Cross the Mississippi" - also featuring the great Mike Finnigan (Phantom Blues Band) on organ - and Samantha Fish sharing vocals with Castro on the rocking "Medicine Woman".
The album closes on the somewhat familiar sounds of the band's earlier singles, the pleasantly hypnotic "That's All I Got" and of course "Greedy", but not before making one hell of an impression. Castro's vocals here are at perhaps their grittiest and most soulful ever, combined with some superb guitar; even the longest and most loyal of the larger Tommy Castro Band fans will have to appreciate - and no doubt be delighted by - the tightness and resulting sound of this fantastic foursome.
Like the old saying from which its title derives, The Devil You Know is better - than just about anything else you've heard lately, including from Castro himself. Certain to be among the, if not the, year's best, The Devil You Know is one you're going to want to stick with for a mighty long time.