Back in the 1950’s the “revue” was common in R&B music.
To save money, several artists would join together, hire a bus and drive across
the country doing gigs. You might find anybody from a young James Brown and the
Flames to a young Ray Charles down toward the bottom of the bill of an R&B
tour. Flash forward five decades to the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruises
sailing now alternately on the Pacific and Caribbean which have become popular
in recent years. Tommy Castro has been on virtually every one of them and loves
the jam sessions with other artists. So he decided to take the concept on the
road. This revue works by having Castro’s band be the house band for various
artists joining in.
Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue is a
live record of eight different shows both on land and sea featuring Castro and
nine different blues artists. They range from veterans such as Joe Louis Walker
and Debbie Davis to newcomers such as the sibling act Trampled Under Foot.
And here is the news from the blues road: this is one of the
best live blues albums ever made. There are plenty of live albums out there but
this one does what a live album should: It somehow transcend the original recordings
to capture the spirit and energy of the performance. You can almost feel the
intensity of an artist clicking with an audience. Think of James Brown’s
classic Live at the Apollo. Tommy
Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue is not in that class
but it is in the same ballpark.
It starts with the song selection. Even though the 12 tracks
are from different shows, they are selected in such a way that you can feel the
excitement of a revue show. It starts with two Tommy Castro songs featuring the
sax and trumpet work of Keith Crossan and Tom Poole to remind us that this is
R&B. The second Castro selection is a version of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve
Somebody” that highlights Castro’s blistering guitar playing and rocks as hard
as or even harder than the original.
The two Castro songs lead into the highlight of the album:
“Voodoo Spell” by Alligator artist Michael “Iron Man” Burks. You might have to
go back to Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy or Luther Allison to find a live guitar
track this good. Burks takes a three minute song from his first album and turns
into a 10 minute powerhouse of screaming blues. The song starts slow and then
builds and builds. Burks lays down incredible guitar licks. It also features a
beautiful piano work by Tony Stead of Castro’s band.
Also noteworthy is the song selection in the middle of the
album. KC based Trampled Under Foot attack the blues like a power rock trio.
That leads into Castro doing his horn heavy, hard driving “Painkiller” which
leads to another gem of this album: Janiva Magness wrapping her powerful,
soulful voice around “Think.” Magness shows why she won an award for Blues
Entertainer of the Year and why she is one of the greatest female blues singers
Add in a slow blues by another powerful female voice, Sista
Monica Parker, the driving full blast harp playing of Rick Estrin channeling
the ghost of Little Walter, an Al Green like soul song from Theodis Ealey and
you have a classic live recording. If you were giving a house party and you
wanted the perfect disk to get people up and moving, this would be it. Kudos to
Tommy Castro for hitting on a brilliant idea and for Alligator for putting it
out. If you ever hear of one of Castro’s “revues” coming your way, or, unlike
me, can afford the heavy coin needed to take one of the Legendary Rhythm and
Blues Cruises, by all means go. If not, get this CD and keep playing it loud.
Spell” “Gotta Serve Somebody” “It’s A Shame” “All I Found” TOM CALLAHAN