Bill Toms has been laying the foundation for an Americana sound since 1987 through various performances with a plethora of rock and Americana stars. Now with thirty years of music-making behind him, Toms and his current band, Bill Toms & Hard Rain (featuring the Soulville Horns), are celebrating with a live performance album, aptly titled Live, released March 29.
The album, recorded on May 5, 2018 at Pittsburgh’s legendary Club Cafe, features Toms on vocals and guitar; Steve Binsbeger on piano and organ; Tom Breiding on guitar and backing vocals; Phil Brontz on saxophone; George Arner on trumpet; Steve Graham on trombone; Tom Valentine on bass, backing vocals, and lead vocals on “Into the Storm;”, and Bernie Herr on drums. Together, these bandmates have cultivated a unique and engaging live sound that lands somewhere between the amped up, all American themes of Bruce Springsteen’s can’t-get-a-man-down musings and the soulful, avant garde wailings of Tom Waits. Toms’ honest and inspired lyrics stand on their own as an anthem for middle America in 2019, covering everything from the complicated landscape of love, to working hard for little reward.
After the release of Toms’ most recent studio album in 2017 with the same musicians, Good For My Soul, he knew it was necessary to capture their chemistry and collective abilities in a live album. “The strength [of this band] lies in its ability to move an audience, remarked Toms on why he chose to do a live album this time around. “This is a performance band. 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. It is our ‘Americana.’”
Much like Good For My Soul, the superior talent of the musicians, their toe-tapping rhythms and gritty licks contrasted with soaring horns and impeccable lyrics, is what draws listeners in. Toms and his band have succeeded in producing an excellent live recording; one can almost picture themselves in a darkened bar, sitting with a drink in hand as blue lights illuminate the stage and Toms pours his heart out onto the floor with his rough-hewn vocals.
Toms launched his musical career in 1987 as lead guitarist of Pittsburgh’s legendary band Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, During that period, he opened for and played with such names as The Band, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. While playing guitar, co-writing, and adding backup vocals for the Houserockers, Toms and the band recorded six studio albums and one live concert album. In 1995, The Houserockers released American Babylon, which was recorded and produced by Springsteen himself.
As a solo artist, Toms has opened for the likes of Levon Helm, Marshall Crenshaw, Buddy Guy, The Kennedys, Steve Forbert, and Ellis Paul. Bill Toms and Hard Rain (featuring the Soulville Horns) have a limited series of tour dates to celebrate the release of Live, appropriately beginning on March 30 at Club Cafe.