Tommy Castro and The Painkillers – New Album, Massive Tour and Swaggering Solos

The country is blessed with an innumerable quantity of talented journeyman musicians, who ply their craft day in and day out. Some record, some tour and many toil in undeserved obscurity. I was aware of Tommy Castro by name, but had not seen him in concert until last week. I am glad I did.

I was inspired by Castro’s confidence, chops and bravado. He and his Painkillers delivered a solid set of rock and blues at the Belly Up. They are touring on the heels of the September release of Stompin’ Ground. The album (on the venerable Alligator Records label) is a solid collection of 12 tracks that further evince the band’s prowess. Onstage Castro did a fine job of balancing deep catalog cuts with new tracks.

Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tommy Castro works with bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown to create a solid live set. Billboard accurately says the band plays “irresistible contemporary blues-rock” with “street-level grit and soul.”

Castro, a native of San Jose, CA, had high praise for the Belly Up, which seems to be a recurring theme for gigs at the venue. His guitar work is swaggering and crisp, and the band leans back when Castro solos. The engine room of McDonald and Brown maintains a steady beat. I was impressed with McDonald’s versatility on keyboards. The album features a slightly fuller sound; guest musicians include Charlie Musselwhite (harp and vocals), Mike Zito (guitar and vocals), Danielle Nicole (vocals) and David Hidalgo (guitar and vocals). Hidalgo is often in town with Los Lobos, and Musselwhite was in town this summer with Elvin Bishop.

From the new album “My Old Neighborhood” is a wistful look back, and was delivered onstage with heartfelt urgency. Other great tracks include “Further on Down the Road” and “Them Changes.”

The current tour started in September and wound throughout the USA before jumping to Europe for a handful of gigs. The tour is set to wind up fifty dates later early next week.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.