So you want to be a bluesman? Or woman (to bring us into the 21st century)? Take a listen to Tommy Castro’s latest album, “A Bluesman Came to Town, a blues odyssey.” It’s an invitation and a warning of the joys, fringe benefits and bumps in the road, all wrapped up in vivid storytelling.

In the title song, a certain “Mr. Johnson” comes to town, and our protagonist, after working hard days in the field, puts down his pitchfork and picks up a guitar. He feels the tug, gets the bug, and before you know it he’s got the blues. In “Child Don’t Go,” a rollicking gospel-tinged duet with Bay Area blues chanteuse Terri Odabi, parents fearful of watching their child lose his innocence, plead with him not to go out into this wicked world all alone. Take that guitar off your back, keep your suitcase all unpacked. 

“I Got Burned” will be familiar to any musician who has ever played in bars and has to struggle to get paid at the end of the night. “Women, Drugs and Alcohol” is self-explanatory about the big three pitfalls of the road, and it even clocks in at 4:20. 

There are songs of loneliness and failure, but it’s not all doom and gloom. “I Caught a Break,” which could be hailed as the updated Johnny B. Goode, complete with a Chuck Berry chunka chunka rhythm, is the long-awaited reward  — having a big hit on the radio. I’m in the money, I’m having so much fun it ain’t funny.

Castro has survived and thrived on the road for more than three decades, as well as recording since 1994. Over the years he has won numerous blues awards, including the B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year Award, regarded as the highest award a blues performer can receive. It’s no wonder. 

He’s one of the most versatile blues guitarists in the business. He can play in all kinds of configuations and feels, from heavy blues-rock to the wonderful acoustic slide guitar on the final track, “Somewhere.” 

And he’s a passionate vocalist and fine songwriter — a triple threat for sure. As usual, he’s backed up by a crew of fine musicians, including members of his road band, the Painkillers. 

Castro and co. have created  thirteen great tracks of blues, complete with some sage advice for anyone who would follow in his footsteps and take to the road:  If you want to be a bluesman, you’ve got learn how to play your cards.  (Mike Sadava)