Review: Stompin’ Ground by Tommy Castro & The Painkillers

Photo: Victoria Smith

By Martine Ehrenclou

Tommy Castro & The Painkillers have a new album, Stompin’ Ground, released on Alligator Records, Sept. 29, 2017. And it’s 12 tracks of soul-blues-stompin’ fun. But hang on, there’s meaningful lyrics and a super-tight band too. Tommy Castro himself is one fluid and clean guitarist and his soulful blues vocals are some of the best I’ve heard. With tasty guitar work, excellent musicianship, and feel good rockin’ tunes, this album has a lot goin’ on.

What a blast of fresh air.

I came late to this blues party as I hadn’t heard of Castro before Stompin’ Ground. He and his band show why they are one of the most popular on the blues-rock scene. With hundreds of live shows, 16 previous albums, Castro and his band are seasoned, excellent players who are having a musical blast. With each song, you can hear just how rooted Castro is in the music. There are certain musicians who merge with their music, as if they’re living and breathing it, and that tends to communicate a certain soulfulness. That’s Castro, hands down.

Castro leads the band with bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson, and drummer Bowen Brown, along with some notable guest musicians and vocalists. The party includes Charlie Musselwhite (harp, vocals) Mike Zito (guitar, vocals) Danielle Nicole (vocals) and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos (guitar, vocals.)

Tommy Castro has won six Blues Music Awards, including the prized, BB King Entertainer of the Year award. No surprise there.

Castro and his band let loose on this collection of inspired songs that blend ripping blues rock with distinct hints of funky soul. This is a band with a social conscience, and Castro’s lyrics are often insightful without hitting you over the head with the message. Combine that with top tier musicianship, and you’ve got something different, something fresh.

As I listened to Stompin’ Ground, I jumped to my computer to find out their tour schedule and honed in on a date in my city. I wouldn’t miss this band live for anything. I know what I’m in for and so will you when you listen to the album.

“Nonchalant” kicks off the record with high-energy blues rock and Castro’s expressive vocals. With a horn section, organ, and backing vocals, this track has a distinct soul flavor. Castro’s guitar riffs flip it into 2017 with contemporary zing.

“Blues All Around Me” is a standout track, with an in-the-pocket rhythm section. This is a toe-tapping, danceable tune. It opens with a catchy bass rhythm line, which leads to Castro’s syncopated vocals. The horns add punch in all the right places. This is funky, feel-good music with searing guitar and sax solos.

“Fear Is The Enemy” gets a little more rock with great groove. This song has something to say about fear and its effects on relationships. Castro brings it, syncing his vocals right in time with the rhythm. And talk about a stinging guitar solo with great tone. This is the mark of a seasoned guitarist. The backing vocals infuse heightened urgency to this track.

The fourth track, “My Old Neighborhood” opens with whining, blues guitar licks, and unfolds a story about Castro growing up in his hometown. He sings a story that is so descriptive and visual, it was as if I was there. The sax fills, acoustic guitar, and piano, ground the song with natural tones. Castro’s vocals are reminiscent of Otis Redding but with more of a contemporary approach.

Mid-album is the song, “Love Is” that starts with a funky bass solo and guitar riff. This tune has hit written all over it. With syncopated rhythms, just beautiful guitar solos, Castro sings it with an intensity the song deserves. The guitar riffs remind me a little of Robert Cray.


“Rock Bottom” is a rhythmic blues shuffle that you could dance all night to. The call and answer between the two guitars just rocks.

I have to mention Danielle Nicole’s voice on “Soul Shake.” What a dynamic vocalist. She harmonizes with Castro on the verses and takes the lead in places. My goodness, she certainly adds dimension to this tune with her vocal chops.

If you’re ready for a swampy blues number then the closing song is for you. It was for me. “Live Every Day” has a breezy feel with plenty of impressive harmonica by Charlie Musselwhite. I mean, really, who better to have play harp on your album?

The take away from Stompin’ Ground is a top-quality blues blast. You won’t be disappointed.

I welcome your comments below.

For more information on Stomping’ Ground and Tommy Castro & The Painkillers:




By |2018-01-29T10:14:35+00:00September 30th, 2017|Album & Single Reviews|18 Comments


  1. Rick Childers September 30, 2017 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I hear some Savoy Brown and Little Feat tucked in there. I like it.

    • Martine Ehrenclou September 30, 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      You might be right about that. When I listen to the album again I’ll listen for Little Feat and Savoy Brown. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Jeff Thatcher September 30, 2017 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Nice review Martine! I really like Tommy Castro!! I have a bunch of different songs of his that I’ve stumbled across over the years. He and the band are always real tight with wonderful blues licks, but they also seem to really enjoy themselves and a lot of the songs have a good sense of humor! Charlie Musselwhite is always awesome! I’ll check this new album out! Thank you for the heads-up!!

    • Martine Ehrenclou September 30, 2017 at 6:03 pm - Reply

      Thanks! Agree on all points and I’m so glad you mentioned the humor in their songs! I almost mentioned it about one of the songs on this new album because it was funny.
      Oh yes, about Musselwhite. The best.
      You’re so welcome. Enjoy!

  3. Jim Barr October 3, 2017 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Nice review. Well-phrased and spot on. When I first heard Tommy live, I called a blues aficionado friend, and told him that I think I might have just heard one of the best bluesmen I’ve ever heard. Haven’t deviated from that sentiment. The new album is all you said. Classic Tommy Castro.

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 3, 2017 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      Thank you. I think you might be right with your comment. It’s a great album and tommy Castro and his band are the best.

  4. Patty Adams October 3, 2017 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    Longtime Castro fan. Great review and great new addition to an already impressive library. He and the Painkillers deserve every success! Thanks for shining a light their way.

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 3, 2017 at 9:08 pm - Reply

      Thank you. That they do, deserve every success. Just a wonderful band. You’re welcome, my pleasure.

  5. Johnny T Hall October 5, 2017 at 5:36 am - Reply

    This record hits all facets of Tommy’s talents, vocals, guitar, soul shaking enthusiasm.
    Another great 1 by Tommy Castro and the Painkillers. My favorite is “rock-bottom”
    W/ Mike Zito.

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 5, 2017 at 6:55 am - Reply

      We think it’s great too. Thanks for your comment.

  6. George ZAferes October 5, 2017 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    WHEW! another Great TC album.(He gives you a choice of CD or vinyl)
    Last years Common Ground, should have been song of the year;
    great commentary of the country’s divide, yet hopeful if we LISTEN;
    Thanks Martine, DON’T miss them next time they are in yo ‘hood=)

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment and your insights and link to the song.
      I already have tix! Can’t wait.

  7. Scott Christiansen October 6, 2017 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Just got my signed copy of Tommy’s new release and have spun it a few times now and it’s a winner. I first saw the Tommy Castro band as the house band for late night Comedy Central Showcase back in ’98 and have been hooked ever since. Have all 16 CDs and seen the band some 30 times which is where the man shines, making eye contact and having a dialogue with the audience much like Elvin Bishop having fun. He sticks around after the show for pics and signings. Humor abounds. His chops are well honed and his band now is tight, especially having his bassman Randy back in the fold. Check out some older CDs and definitely see them in a club. You’ll be addicted to these painkillers!

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 6, 2017 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Agreed, their new release is a winner. Wow–you are a true fan, having seen them 30 times and having all of their CDs. The way you describe his live shows, they sound great. I’ll take your advice and check out some of their older CDs. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Bill and Cindy Theres October 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    My wife and I have seen Tommy and the Painkillers every time they’ve been in chicago for the last 5 or 6 years . Not only are they the best Blues entertainment we’ve seen they are the most down to earth guys around. Tommy hiimself makes sure he comes out between sets anf after and makes people feel like you’ve known him all your life. Go and check these guys out, you wont be disappointed.

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 7, 2017 at 2:24 pm - Reply

      Bill and Cindy,
      Thanks for your description of his live shows. Isn’t that great that Tommy is so welcoming. I’m going to see him. got my tix already!

  9. Fred Butzwhette October 9, 2017 at 5:42 am - Reply

    You R NOT Going to Believe this !!!!!!!! I had never heard of Tommy or his Painkillers. They happened to have their tour bus parked along side the sidewalk next to my hotel on a side street in Holland Michigan this past Saturday . I was walking my baby girl, my dog, and recognized it was a tour bus. Stopped and asked who they were. Tommy told me who they were and gave me a copy of their latest CD, Stompin Ground. These guy are FABULOUS. I put the CD in my laptop and haven’t been able to do any work all morning with that rockin blues blastin in my ear

    • Martine Ehrenclou October 9, 2017 at 6:10 am - Reply

      That’s an incredible story! Love it.

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