By Margaret Welsh
Pittsburgh Current Music Editor
BILL TOMS AND HARD RAIN
[Tarraplane Records] www.billtoms.com
Live records are a delicate and often divisive species, made or broken by sound quality, audience interaction, musicianship, energy, etc. The simply-titled Live, which Bill Toms and Hard Rain (featuring the Soulville Horns) recorded at Club Cafe on May 5th, 2018, hits the necessary points. The sound is studio-clean, the crowd is warm but unintrusive, and the chemistry between the players — who have been working together for years now — sizzles. Toms, a veteran musician who got his start in the mid 1980s as lead guitarist for Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, has the charisma and energy to keep Live buoyant all the way through, his slightly gruff vocals conducting his compatriots with theatrical flair without overshadowing them. In its best moments, the record echoes the brilliant jubilance of another sax-heavy live record, Springsteen’s Hammersmith Odeon London ’75. Toms ain’t the Boss (who is?) but Live shows him to be a powerful performer and an ace songwriter in his own right. “This is a performance band,” he says in a press release for the album. “We try to carry the long rhythm and blues tradition of moving from town to town, exhausting the emotion and physical spirit of the crowd.” A live record may never be a substitute for the real thing, but until we can go back outside, Live is a more-than acceptable facimalie.