Daniel Castro’s latest album “Desperate Rain” simmers like the black asphalt treading across the everlasting ocean of sand in Baja, California.
When you boil it down the blues are all about feeling. There are certain rules and regulations of the genre that most artists adhere to in terms of chords, melodies and song structure that are tied all the way to its origins in the backwoods of the deep south. With everyone using the same instruments to build a similar sound, separation from the pack is going to come from how the music feels rather than how it sounds.
Now based in San Jose, Castro is a Southern California native and his songs are as dry and rolling as the desert winds powering the giant blades of windmills along Interstate 10. You feel Castro’s heart in his tone and unflappable chemistry with a guitar but he never overwhelms you with the added humidity of busy solos and a lumbering rhythm section. Johnny Yu (bass) and David Preper (drums) go back decades playing together and they take precise cuts through space and time with their style to create tidy, desert roads that Castro cruises with top-down-wind-blowing-in-your-hair ease.
The sun-bleached slide guitar that opens the title track and album instantly makes you take notice of the sound coming from your speakers. It would be perfect to introduce some no-nonsense highway cop in an outlaw movie surveying the sweltering expanse of tumbleweeds, cacti and desperation from behind mirrored aviators. Castro’s slide skips over the dusty rhythm like the shovel-snouted lizard who dances on two feet across the scorching sand dunes of Namibia to keep from burning itself.
The first half of the album moves along well enough behind Castro’s playing. “Maureena” and “Johnny Nitro” are reliably bluesy and “No Surrender” offers some tangy licks that mix well with the three men’s sweet harmonies, but for the most part they have a pretty stock feel to them. The second half of the album is where we get some more personality from Castro, namely his arid slide playing that might be his defining characteristic. “Dark Train” fittingly features a groove as thick and black as a coal train’s smoke stack pushing toward the horizon, Yu and Preper keeping the train chugging like gnarled conductors. Castro rises above their drums and bass like an unknown spirit brought to life and proceeds to let that jangly spirit cross over into the next song, “Shelter Me,” as it streams from his fingers to the frets.
Good Lovin’ Woman” might be the band’s most engaging track. “Good lovin’ women have always been hard to find,” claims Castro, though the guitarist is doing his damndest he tries to woo them with his passionate playing. His riff is essentially a bluesier take on James Brown’s “Doing It To The Death,” both men sweating out some funky juju on the melody, Brown raising the soul of you with his voice and Castro’s guitar sliding smoothly over the small of his woman’s back as they dance up against one another in boozy lust.
Fans will be happy to hear the Daniel Castro Band is playing with as much gusto as it ever has on “Desperate Rain” and newcomers will be looking for his fire burning deep in the spacious landscapes of Southern California.
- The Daniel Castro Band
Notable Tracks: “Desperate Rain,” “Dark Train,” “Good Lovin’ Woman”