Tommy Castro and the Painkillers: Killin' It Live (Alligator/Southbound)

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Anytime Soon
Tommy Castro and the Painkillers: Killin' It Live (Alligator/Southbound)

Long-serving blues singer/guitarist Tommy Castro has been a winner of the BB King Entertainer of the Year (among many accolades) and this one recorded crisply in various venues in California, New York, Michigan and Texas finds the four-piece in typically incendiary form on mostly originals but also a funky take on Sleepy John Estes' Leaving Trunk and an eight minute workout on Buddy Miles' Them Changes (which appeared on their Stompin' Ground studio album of a couple of years back).

There is a tick-the-boxes ethic on some of these: Make It Back to Memphis manages to namecheck Ray (we're guessing Stevie not James Earl!), Highway 61, Texas hold'em . . . It's exciting and as a set opener a real grabber, but also reflective of Castro's enjoyable but push-button blues (hard times, gotta get up again, being on the road . . .)

He can be a furious player and keyboard genius Mike Emerson is his equal, especially when they step sideways from the flat-tack approach as on the broody Lose Lose, a Castro co-write with Joe Louis Walker, and his more soulful side on the excellent Anytime Soon which is a kind of weary meditation on the state of his nation but that a change is gonna come . . . but it ain't comin' any time soon.

Castro is especially good at this kind of thing, his voice easing towards a less ragged Southside Johnny or Bob Seger and the songs leaving plenty of space for the listener to think through the gaps.

When they hit the blues-rock button Castro and the Painkillers keep everything fist-tight, but frequently (Two Hearts) the vehicles are simply taken from familiar templates and not given much modification.

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