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TOMMY CASTRO "Soul Shaker" Blind Pig
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page WE08

If he hasn't already done so, blues/soul journeyman Tommy Castro should pack up some of his new tunes and start shopping them around.

Listening to his latest CD, "Soul Shaker," it's easy to imagine Etta James turning in a terrific version of "No One Left to Lie To," an achingly sad and soul-baring ballad co-written by Kevin Bowe, or the Holmes Brothers robustly covering the roadhouse-meets-church house shuffle "The Next Right Thing." Come to think of it, Delbert McClinton would sound perfectly at home recording any cut on "Soul Shaker," not just the spiritual crossroads tale "What You Gonna Do Now?," which he co-penned. That's not to say Castro's singing comes up short this time around; his gritty Mellencamp-like voice is as soulful as ever. It's just that several songs here deserve a lot more exposure than they're likely to get.

Southern soul colors most of the album's highlights, including the title track, inspired by a latter-day honky-tonk woman. Castro doesn't play an extended blues guitar break until the album's halfway mark, but he and some fellow pickers have a firm grasp of Memphis guitar licks, from extended chord chops and sliding double stops to subtle fills and responses. Lots of guests show up, including slide guitarist Roy Rogers and Robert Cray's keyboardist Jim Pugh , who nicely augment Castro's rootsy, sax-powered quartet and help add texture to the best batch of songs the bandleader has ever turned out.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Wednesday at the Rams Head Tavern, Feb. 4 at the Funk Box and Feb. 5 at the State Theatre. • To hear a free Sound Bite from Tommy Castro, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)