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VARIOUS The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live Alligator ALCD4943 (2011)

The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live

There are live albums and there are live albums. Too often most fail to truly represent what really went down on the night. In the case of Tommy Castro's 'Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue', TC the band leader has come up with a slightly different approach, culling the best of both of his blues cruise dates and the cruise related club and theatre shows from the tour.

There's also the fact that he's gathered together a bunch of top musicians who he regards both as friends as much as blues fans. The result is the best of the chemistry between Tommy's house band and a roster of interesting guests played out in front of several appreciative audiences.

And it is Tommy's charisma, his superb playing and his immaculate band that dominates the project, driving the various performances forward and giving the project its coherent organic feel. The album is a triumph of the whole over its constituent's parts. Make no mistake there are no weak links here but there are some moments of consummate excellence.

Each guest represents a link in the blues chain and an element in a rhythm and blues review that would be hard to better.

Tommy opens the album with a brace of funky horn led pieces including his take on Dylan's gospel tinged 'Gotta Serve Somebody'. He further anchors the project just past the mid way point with the self penned 'Pain Killer', on which he adds his best vocal performance, finding just enough space between a towering horn arrangement and his own fierce fretboard work.

If you weren't familiar with Tommy before this live album, he offers the perfect intro to both his own rip-roaring style and his magnificent band and he tops and tails the album with 'Serves Me Right To Suffer' before slipping into a party time, hip shaking boogie and a horn led crescendo before a closing guitar flurry provides the perfect ending to a great album.

His guests do him proud, especially the mesmerising slide playing and cutting lead guitar work of the mighty Michael Burkes who with Tony Stead on impeccable piano fills, leans into the brusque 'Voodoo Spell'. Then there's the reinvigorated Joe Louis Walker who brings his soulful oeuvre to bear on JJ Malone's 'It's a Shame'. Joe also gets the best out of the hard working Castro horn section.

And as the grooves work their magic and the excitement begins to build, you realise you are in the middle of a memorable set.

Sister Monica Parker catches the moment on 'Never Say Never' as she announces 'sometimes you got to slow this thing down', before delving into some deep blues with the help of Tony Stead on organ, saxophonist Keith Crosson and trumpeter Tom Poole, leaving Tommy just enough space to add his own telling notes. Each artist provides a perfect link in the blues chain and after the portions of funky blues and soul, up steps Night Cats leader Rick Estrin with his unique stop-time, harp led humour on one of his enduring favourites 'My Next Ex-Wife'.

And while powerful vocalist Janiva Magness covers The Five Royales/James Brown popularised 'Think' as a tightly wrapped piece of snappy funky complete with a superbly arranged horn piece it's not quite emotionally engaging enough. Debbie Davies's 'All I Found' is better as she works up a powerful slow blues in which the spaces between her big toned notes act a foil to her gritty vocal performance on one of the best tracks on the album.

'The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue' is both a celebration of the original meaning of R&B and a great live album.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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