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Tommy Castro Keeps Things Live on ‘Method To My Madness’

Nov. 17, 2015
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Photo by Victoria Smith

People who see Tommy Castro and the Painkillers on his fall tour but have yet to hear his new album, Method To My Madness, will have a good idea of what to expect from the new release by the time the show is over.

Guitarist/singer Castro plans to play upward of eight or nine of the new songs at each show. Beyond that, the songs from Madness figure to sound a lot like the album versions because of how Castro approached the making of the album. With his band the Painkillers—bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson—he recorded the album almost as if it was a live recording.

“It’s cool playing the new songs with the band that recorded it,” Castro said. “And the way we recorded it was very live. That was my concept for this record, having an album that was really organic and kind of live, a real band playing songs—the same thing we do with the live show—without all the help that you can get from recording it in the studio.”

The studio was very much a tool in the making of Castro’s previous album, 2014’s The Devil You Know. “It was not so much about wanting the band to sound live,” Castro said of The Devil You Know. “It was about what would make this song really happen, whatever we need. So if we had a guitar with effects, something maybe in the mixing where we could add a certain kind of compression or we work with the low end, we’d do something to enhance the sort of vibe we were going for on that particular song.” Castro liked the way that album turned out, but he didn’t want his next album to be The Devil You Know: Part 2.

The idea of chasing a live-in-the-studio type of sound started to come into focus when Castro did some shows with fellow bluesman Tab Benoit. “I’m a huge Tab fan. We’ve been friends and we’ve known each other for a long time,” Castro said. “I love his sound. I love his voice. I like the way he plays guitar and I like the way he kicks so much ass with three guys, two guys in his band plus him. And it’s very raw and very real and very live. His concept about recording is to go in and just be, ‘This is what it is.’”

While Method To My Madness is rarer than its predecessor, it shares a common trait with The Devil You Know. Both albums accent more of Castro’s rock influences than his earlier albums.

The album starts on an especially impressive note with the grooving R&B-laced rock of “Common Ground” (a call to set aside the divisiveness of today’s politics and see what unites people of varying beliefs), and the stinging shuffle of “Shine A Light.” There’s a little Creedence Clearwater Revival and Cajun rhythm to the frisky and catchy “Got A Lot,” while “Ride” is a slinky, even spooky, bit of late-night blues-rock.

Castro is proud of Method To My Madness, but makes no promises about what sort of sound he’ll pursue the next time he’s in the studio.

“I’ve really enjoyed this phase of the band,” Castro said. “I don’t know what we’ll do next, but I’m having a great time doing the music the way we’re doing it now. I’m enjoying all of these new songs. The only problem is that I would like to do all of the songs off of this new album. I like them all. But it wouldn’t leave much room for my past catalogue and I know I’ll get some unhappy customers. So anyway, we’re doing about eight out of 12 songs, maybe nine.”

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers play Shank Hall on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m.


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