"Sentimental Junk" (Casa Del Soul Records; 2022)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Tom Guerra is one those rare artists who, when their latest project comes sliding across your desk, the question isn't "Is it any good?" The question is "How good is it going to be this time?" The answer to that question, regarding Tom's new album, "Sentimental Junk," is that it's among his best yet.

There are so many great sounds on this 11-track collection that I don't know where to begin. I will tell you that—the first listen through—I heard hints of artists like The Beatles, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Huey Lewis & The News and Frank Zappa. Yeah, I know. A pretty impressive and somewhat eclectic list. Then, as I read through Tom's notes "About the Songs," I discovered that Tom had some of his influences in his mind as he wrote and recorded the music. Legends like The Smithereens, Johnny Thunders, Chuck Berry, Rory Gallagher, Leslie West and others. The thing to keep in mind here is that the tracks on "Sentimental Junk" don't exactly sound like those great artists listed above. Their influences are there (and everywhere) but this is a Tom Guerra album and that's what it sounds like. Tom Guerra. Like every musician, Tom's sound was shaped and influenced by the people he listens to, and respects, and that influence comes through on "Sentimental Junk."

"Sentimental Junk" is a saucy, smooth rockin' collection of tunes filled with groovy guitar music (more on that in a bit), velvety vocals, a tight rhythm section and outstanding production value. I don't think there's a song here that wouldn't make a terrific radio hit (with the exception of the understandably frustrated, nearly spoken word "Where's the New Rock & Roll?"). Each track is vibrant, buoyant and brings forth a number of emotions as you listen, sometimes more than one in the same song. For example, I love the bright but melancholy "California's Got to My Girl," (featuring vocals by Jon Butcher) and the funky, angry and heartfelt plea, "Let Me Learn to Let It Go."

Another thing I love about this album is the guitar sound. It's full, rich and all rock'n'roll. All of the music on "Sentimental Junk" just jumps from the speakers into your ears, but the guitar really stands out. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the outstanding production but a lot of it has to do with Tom's guitar. In the notes for the track "Autumn Eyes," Tom says:  "I recently fell in love with a grimy old 1957 Stratocaster, a grimy old instrument that spent its life in the roadhouses of Texas. This is a love song to that guitar, which appears all over the album, proving that there’s no fool like an old fool." My ear isn't refined enough to pick out one guitar from another as I listen to music, but the guitar sound of "Sentimental Junk" is notable throughout, both during rhythm and during solos.

A couple of quick final notes: Tom's lyrics are also first rate. Intelligent, humorous and, like the music, thought- and emotion-provoking. And the other musicians on this album are nothing short of outstanding as well, most of them returning from previous Tom Guerra albums.

"Sentimental Junk" is one of my favorite albums of this year. I've probably listened to it five times through since it showed up in my stack. And I know I'm going to enjoy listening to it for a long, long time to come.

Performing on "Sentimental Junk" are: Tom Guerra - vocals and guitar, bass on tracks 9, 10 and 11; ,Kenny Aaronson - bass guitar, string and horn arrangements on tracks 4 and 9; Mike Kosacek - drums and percussion; Jon Butcher (vocals on track 4), Morgan Fisher - clavinet; Scott Lawson Pomeroy - vocals on track 8; Matt Zeiner - Hammond B-3 and piano.

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"Sudden Signs of Grace" (Casa Del Soul Records; 2020)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Like a breath of fresh air, Tom Guerra's new album, "Sudden Signs of Grace," has arrived.

"Sudden Signs of Grace" sounds a little more relaxed than Tom's previous album, "American Garden." Most of the tracks are more tranquil, taking their time to unfold at a pace all their own. By the time you get through the hypnotizing final track, "Sleep Song," you'll feel more relaxed yourself, but completely satisfied as well.

The CD begins with "It's All in the Skies" a Beatles-esque tune (George Harrison-style, not Paul McCartney-style) that sets the mood for what's to come. It's a gentle rolling tune that will have your toe tapping along almost instantly.  "Down on Your Luck" is next and its another cool, calm and collected tune that gives Tom the opportunity to display his impressive vocal talent. A Rolling Stones type riff stands out in "Lover's Time" and the title track follows, a jaunty, sunshiny number that can't help but lift your spirits.

I won't go through the rest of the album track-by-track but there are a couple of songs I should mention. Tom's cover of the late Eddie Money's "Gimme Some Water" is a little less gritty than Money's original but keeps the emotion of the tune complete. And "Streets of Baltimore," originally recorded by Bobby Bare, is an interesting change of pace, branching Tom out quite successfully to full Country music territory.

As with Tom's previous albums, the guitars stand out throughout the recording. The leads fit perfectly within the songs instead of sounding like an inserted solo (like too many do) and they're always sharp and clear. Which brings me to my second point, a point I've made before about Tom's music: It's pure and crystal clear from beginning to end, and I don't mean only sonically, I mean lyrics-wise, production-wise, emotions-wise. I believe I've said before that you don't get a more honest recording than you do with Tom Guerra and "Sudden Signs of Grace" is another shining example of that.

I'd also like to thank Tom for the insightful liner notes. It's great to listen to a song while reading what inspired the artist to perform it.

Performing on "Sudden Signs of Grace" are: Tom Guerra - all vocals and guitars, percussion, piano, bass; Kenny Aaronson - bass and fretless bass; Mike Kosacek - drums and percussion. Special Guests: Scott Rath - pedal steel guitar on Track 10; Matt Zeiner - Hammond organ, piano.

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"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").

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"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 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.

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"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.

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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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