As the headliner of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Tommy Castro is a missionary for classic R&B. And with his albums, the Bay Area guitarist/vocalist/songwriter has made his mark as a standard bearer for the music — one of a handful not only keeping the old-school sound alive but making it still matter. An incisive instrumentalist additionally armed with pipes that exude power and confidence, Castro completes the hat trick, collaborating on genre-savvy originals that can stand toe-to-toe with well-chosen covers.
On Hard Believer, that savvy — and a grand display of artistic cojones — is evidenced on the title track. Castro and company's impressive duplication of the classic Otis Redding ballad style, complete with a vocal unabashedly in the style of the master, just about dares purists to have a problem with it. The man is just as nervy with an in-your-face homage to Wilson Pickett on "Ninety-Nine and One Half." While Castro's monster axe is largely put in service to the varied song fare on this set, there is more than enough guitar work to keep that side of his rep in good order. It's his total skill base that's the show here, and a solid show it is. — Duane Verh