TOM GUERRA

"American Garden" (Casa Del Soul Productions; 2018)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

You remember what I said about Tom Guerra last time don't you? "A new CD by Tom Guerra is like a visit from an old friend." This time, however, that friend's not just coming over to have a beer and shoot the shit. No, this time he wants to spend a little more serious time with you and, although it's still wonderful to have him drop by again, this time out requires a little more thinking.

According to the liner notes, many of the songs that appear on "American Garden" were originally intended for a Yardbirds studio album that never came to be. Although it may sound weird, the fact that the bottom fell out of the Yardbirds project is actually a good thing because those tunes are now here on this, Tom's own CD.

As I mentioned above, Tom's taking things a little more seriously on "American Garden" and the commentary here fits Tom's style like a glove. Songs like "American Garden" (which Tom wrote after having conversations with Vietnam vets), "Blood on the New Rising Sun" (a song about the Charlottesville protests) and "The Lyin' King" (we all know who that is, whether we're willing to admit it or not) are solid, intelligent rockers with something to say. As does the title track, the sobering "American Garden." Other tracks, such as "Jack for Joe" and "Meet Me at the Bottom of Your Glass" are personal, emotional reflections of lost friends. There's also a fitting tribute to Tom Petty with a cover of Petty's "Walls."

Don't worry. "American Garden" isn't one of those albums that sounds preachy. Like most of Tom's stuff, it just sounds honest. It's a man and musician who's doing what art is supposed to do: Communicate. And Tom is one of the very best at doing just that.

The music here is straight-forward classic rock in the vein of The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Bob Seger and ... well, Tom Petty. It walks that nebulous line between blues and rock'n'roll (if there even is such a line) which means it never rocks too hard, or too soft. This isn't Led Zeppelin and it isn't Air Supply. You know what it is? It's Tom Guerra and friends.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible musicians that join Tom here (see below). Their amazing talent buoys this album up even further. And I gotta say that special guest Jon Butcher's lead guitar on "Blood on the New Rising Sun"  is nothing short of electrifying. It's the kind of thing you always hope to get from a guest musician of that stature and too seldom get.

Performing on "American Garden" are: Tom Guerra - vocals, guitars, organs; bass; Kenny Aaronson - bass guitar; Mike Kosacek - drums. Special Guests: Jon Butcher (lead guitar on Blood on the New Rising Sun"), Morgan Fisher - piano on "Meet me at the Bottom of Your Glass" and Garry Segel - harmonica on "Goodbye to Yesterday" and "The Lyin' King").

For more information, check out http://www.tomguerra.com.

"Trampling out the Vintage" (Casa Del Soul Productions; 2016)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

The thing I like about Tom Guerra's music is that I can take one of his CDs, his latest, "Trampling Out the Vintage," for example, and give it to four or five friends. I could give it to Snidermann, whose reviews you've read here on RoughEdge.com. Steve's tastes run toward hard rock. I could give it to John, who does the Friday Shot Day Show with us. John likes music from the late 60s and early 70s. I could give it to my brother, Doug, whose favorite band is Devo but who likes classic rock. I could give it to Fuse, whose punkabilly band, Hard Six, is one of Ventura County's favorites.

I could give a copy of Tom's CD to all of those people and you know what? They'd all like it. Because "Trampling Out the Vintage," much like Tom's previous CD (see below), has a little something for everyone. It's a terrific rock'n'roll record from start to finish, with a backbone of amazing guitar courtesy Mr. Guerra, and it rolls through tracks that contain hints of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many others. 

Most of the songs here are written by Tom although there are two cover songs: "Make Your Own Kind of Music," originally recorded by the Will O Bees but probably better known for the Mama Cass version, and "Pay in Blood," a Bob Dylan song. Tom does a great job with both cover songs, putting his spin on them, especially the Dylan song, which is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

On top of all that incredible talent, the CD is astounding in its production quality. The guitars sound live, it's as though you're in the room with Tom while he was playing. And the vocals are smooth and perfectly balanced with the music. One of my pet peeves is when the music is so loud you can't hear the vocals, or vice versa, and this CD gets it absolutely right.

And I would be remiss without commenting about the musicians surrounding Tom. They are amazing as well and are a big part of what makes this CD work so well.

A new CD by Tom Guerra is always welcome. There's an old editorial cliché that they use all the time on book covers, something along the lines of "A new book from Clive Cussler is like a visit from an old friend." I'm going to go ahead and steal that line and use it here: A new CD by Tom Guerra is like a visit from an old friend, and I can't wait until he visits again.

Performing on "Trampling out the Vintage" are: Tom Guerra - vocals and guitars; Kenny Aaronson - bass guitar; Morgan Fisher - piano and organ; Mike Kosacek - drums and percussion; Matt Zeiner - Hammond and piano.

For more information, check out http://www.tomguerra.com.

"All of the Above" (Casa Del Soul Productions; 2014)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

I have been remiss in reviewing Tom Guerra's first solo CD, "All of the Above." It was sent to me back in June of this year, as I recall, and I was eager to review it based on how I felt about Tom's band, Mambo Sons (you can read those reviews here). Of course, here it is December and I'm finally sitting down and trying to write my review.

I don't have an excuse for taking this long, but I do have a reason. And the reason is that Tom's album, like the Mambo Sons albums that preceded it, is difficult to review. You can't just say, "It's great classic rock" because it's also "great blues rock." You can't just say "It's deep and thoughtful" because it's also pretty damn funny (just give a listen to "Frankenstein Boots"). You can't just say it's got a 60s feel to it, because it also has a 70s feel, and an 80s feel, and beyond. This CD is more than that. It is, in fact, "All of the Above" and that's a big part of what makes it so listenable.

The interesting thing is that, as different as each song is, it's still driven by irresistible guitar riffs and incredible songwriting. Tom says in his letter to reviewers that he "wanted to make the kind of basic rock and roll album that nobody makes anymore" and that's what he's done. "All of the Above" has a classic sound that channels everyone from Roy Orbison to Mott the Hoople to the Rolling Stones, but filtered through Tom's ears and eyes. (And, speaking of Mott the Hoople, that band's Morgan Fisher makes a guest appearance here, as does The Dickey Betts Band's Matt Zeiner).

The other big part of what makes "All of the Above" such a rousing success is the songwriting style and lyrical content. I don't know Tom that well -- we've only exchanged e-mails -- but this CD feels startlingly honest to me. I get the feeling as I listen to this CD that it is exactly what Tom wanted it to sound like. I feel like I know him a little better after listening to "All of the Above" and, really, isn't communication what music is all about?

So, Tom, my apologies for taking so long to review your excellent CD, and my apologies also to those who should have been listening to this album much earlier this year.

For more information, check out http://www.TomGuerra.com

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

 

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