Music News & Reviews

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers play Harlow’s in Sacramento

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers: From left, Randy McDonald, Tommy Castro, Mike Emerson and Bowen Brown
Tommy Castro and the Painkillers: From left, Randy McDonald, Tommy Castro, Mike Emerson and Bowen Brown

People who see Tommy Castro and the Painkillers on tour will have a good idea of what his newest album sounds like whether they’ve heard “Method to My Madness” or not.

First of all, guitarist-singer Castro plans to perform eight or nine of the new songs at each show. (The tour comes to Harlow’s on Friday, Dec. 11.) Beyond that, the songs from “Method to My Madness” figure to sound a lot like the album versions because of how Castro approached making the album.

He used the Painkillers – bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Mike Emerson – on the album and he also recorded “Method To My Madness” almost as if it were a live recording.

“It’s cool playing the new songs with the band that recorded it,” Castro said in an early November phone interview. “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 without a lot of – 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, the 2014 release “The Devil You Know,” which he said “was not so much about wanting the band to sound live.”

“It was about what would make this song really happen, whatever we need,” Castro said. “So if we had a guitar with effects, something maybe in the mixing where we could add 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 “The Devil You Know” 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).’ He does it that way all the time. So we had a few talks about that when I was on his bus traveling with him. And I thought well, this is exactly what I need to do because it’s the opposite of what I did with ‘The Devil You Know.’ It will make a different-sounding record.”

Both “Method to My Madness” and “Devil You Know” accent more of Castro’s rock influences than his earlier albums.

His leaner, rocking sound is a product of Castro’s decision in 2012 to pare back his band, dropping the horns he had featured since about 2005 and going with a drums, bass, keyboards and guitar format.

“I loved that sound, that full sound, and having a horn section and keyboards,” Castro said. “I reveled in it for a while. … I’m a soul guy, I’m a traditional blues guy, and I just loved that for a long time. But then the time came, like OK, I’m really getting a little bit tired of this wall of sound on every song.”

As proud of “Method To My Madness” as Castro is, he 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 catalog and I know I’ll get some unhappy customers.”

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers

When: 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11

Where: Harlow’s, 2708 J St., Sacramento

Cost: $22-25