John Del Toro Richardson - Tengo Blues

By Matt MacDonald
February 2016

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Jonn Del Toro Richardson

Tengo Blues (2015)

VizzTone (VT-JRCD-01)

By Matt MacDonald

With Tengo Blues, Houston-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Jonn Del Toro Richardson has released his first solo-headliner album. Produced by Anson Funderburgh, it’s made up of 13 tracks (including two instrumentals), all of which were either written or co-written by the man himself.

Everything sounds pretty tight and solid here. Del Toro plays an outstanding, tasteful guitar and, vocally, holds his own throughout.

The Texas Horns appear on many of the tunes and add much to them, from the toned down jazzy swing of “Triple Lindig” to the momentum pushing “Here She Comes.”

Further texture is added by Nick Connoly’s organ and piano playing. All of these qualities can be heard, at their best, on “Behind the Curtain” and “Can’t Run From Love” (co-written with Gary Vincent). Everything comes together on these two, especially the former, which starts the album off on the right foot. The band moves cohesively and with power, as it does on every track, but the lyrics are also thoughtful: Del Toro has something to say that might be worth a listen. This isn’t really the case for a number of the other songs, which don’t go all that deep lyrically (“Girl’s got a butt/looks better than J-Lo.” in “Tall Pretty Baby”, for example) and are often somewhat predictable (although “I’m Her Man” did throw me… Good one.).

But it’s on these more standard sounding tunes that Del Toro’s voice sounds its most up front and confident. His original ones sometimes seem as if he’s not quite as committed. However, to his singing and especially songwriting credit, he still gets everything across while making it all sound good.

Combined with his change-of-pace song selections, Del Toro Richardson and his band must keep the Friday night crowd rocking and on their toes.

Texas is all over Tengo Blues: Texas guitar, Texas blues, Texas lyrics, Texas feel to my Massachusetts ears. I had to double check the writing credits to figure out that “Love If You Want It” wasn’t a heavily re-arranged cover of the James Moore (AKA Slim Harpo) “Got Love If You Want It.”

But it’s not only this kind of Texas music that turns up here. Popping the CD from its case, I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful old black and white photo of a four-person mariachi band, three of whom are identified as Del Toro’s Great Aunt, Grandma, and Great Uncle. The title instrumental and “The Moment” bring this heritage and sound out in their own way. They also add the most noticeable wrinkles to the CD and make it all the better for them.

Overall, Tengo Blues is a success. For better or for worse, those well-worn blues pathways are trodden again, albeit confidently. Very much for the better, though, are the feet in the shoes that walk them and create their own imprint along the way. This, happily, can be heard here too.

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