Album review: TOMMY CASTRO & THE PAIN KILLERS – Method To My Madness


Alligator [Release date 23.10.15]

Tommy Castro’s ‘Method To My Madness’ is a slow burning, bluesy crossover album that is big on grooves, incisive solos, rich melodies and tight band interplay, but lacks killer songs.

‘Method To My Madness’ is a well crafted album on which Tommy and The Pain Killers pour all their energies into the kind of MOR mould over which you could imagine a stop- watch producer overseeing to make sure no song breaks the 5 minute mark. And while this album is thankfully much more organic than that, the best moments illustrate the point that this is a band playing within its capabilities.

Look no further than Tommy’s intense solo at the end of ‘All About The Cash’, or indeed the delightful closing ‘Bad Luck’, a loose limbed shuffle predicated on Randy McDonald’s walking bass line and Michael Emerson’s ebullient piano and organ fills, before Tommy signs off with a piecing conversational solo.

Perhaps we should read more into the title of the opening cut ‘Common Ground’ which could be a metaphor for Tommy music, as his amalgam of styles is homogenized into a rootsy album.

He switches to slide for the uplifting hook ‘Shine A Light’, while the punchy title track is a worthy album highlight, with a mix of Tommy gritty vocals and an interesting choice of chords.

But the album loses impetus on the stop-time ballad ‘Died And Gone To Heaven’, which aims to tap into the current upsurge of interest in soul.  Happily, ‘Got A Lot’ redresses the sequential balance, while ‘No Such Luck’ features Bowen Brown’s Latino feel offset by Tommy’s crisp guitar break.

For the most part Tommy seems content in a quality comfort zone populated by shuffles, grooves, and shimmering tones, best exemplified by the swampy ‘Ride’.  The latter embodies all that is good about the band, as well as Tommy’s understated style and his ability as a humorous lyricist to conjure up colourful characters such as Johnny: “He’s got one eye on the clock and the other on your wife’.

It all makes for an album that promises much but doesn’t quite fulfill its potential.

There’s musical diversity, cool arrangements, meticulous playing and when the band grooves on ‘No Such Luck’, you are hearing a road tested combo at its best.

What the album lacks is something to take it from the ranks of the enjoyable to being simply great. So while the band gets funky on ‘I’m Qualified’,  it takes Tommy’s straight-to the-vein blues injection on ‘Lose Lose’ to  act as a tension buster.  A long overdue trademark guitar figure and a gritty vocal finally cuts to the bone over a rock solid accompaniment.

‘Method To My Madness’ smoulders, flickers and occasionally sparkles, but it demands repeated listening to uncover a soulful heart. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00


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