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CD REVIEW: Bill Toms' Memphis

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THE DEAL: Road toasted rock from the heartland.

THE GOOD: You might not know the name, but a lot of the music sounds mighty familiar. Bill Toms spends a lot of time in Springsteen territory on his latest release, Memphis. Toms has a history with Springsteen, who produced Toms' first record, American Babylon, during Toms' 20-year stint as lead guitarist for Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers and has had the singer/guitarist opening for him over the years. "Coleen, Goodbye" and "On the Road of Freedom" could have been ripped right out of the Boss' songbook, complete with Big Man style sax solos by Clarence Clemmons sound-alike Phil Brontz. But Toms doesn't spend all his time celebrating New Jersey. He travels a bit with "I Won't Go to Memphis No More," a jangly, floor-pounding rocker with a second line backbeat that sounds more New Orleans than Memphis. Then he turns N'Awleans inside out, taking the second line out of Earl King's "Let's Make a Better World," recorded by Dr. John on 1974's Desitively Bonnaroo, slowing it down to a funky blues stomp. "Somebody Help Me" sounds like Paul Thorn's Memphis soul backed by some boiling Memphis guitar courtesy of Toms and producer Will Kimbrough.

THE BAD: Bit of a marketing problem with little mainstream name recognition. But this one ought to be big with Bruce fans and hard-rockin' blues lovers alike.

THE VERDICT: Toms sounds like Tom Waits backed by the E Street Band — tough, hard rock that mixes Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes with Springsteen and the rough soul of Paul Thorn. Add some blistering blues guitar to the mix, stir well. Enjoy.

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