Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs were a dynamic live act in early '80s Los Angeles, but the band never went as far as contemporaries such as X, the Blasters and Los Lobos. After the death of Top Jimmy in 2001, Carlos Guitarlos, the band's guitarist, survived congestive heart failure and quit drinking. At age 53, he has released Straight From The Heart, a solo disc that fully demonstrates his guitar-playing and songwriting skills.
His music is rooted in the blues, but Guitarlos doesn't confine himself to one genre on the album's seventeen songs, a by-product of his days as a street musician in San Francisco in the 1990s. "Damn Atchafalaya", the opening track, features an infectious zydeco rhythm, while "The Love I Want" is a first-rate soul ballad delivered in a pleading voice reminiscent of Eddie Hinton.
Guitarlos shares the spotlight with Dave Alvin on "Poppin' And Bumpin'", a frantic rocker that finds the two trading verses and guitar licks; it would sound at home on a Blasters album. "Two Tavern Town" is a country-flavored duet with John Doe that's closer in spirit to the Knitters than X.
While he occasionally resorts to blues cliches ("Women & Whiskey"), Guitarlos shows his strength as a confessional songwriter on the prayer-like title track and "When The Pain Stops Killing Me". The latter, which deals with his previously self-destructive lifestyle, could inspire some cover versions. "I'll stop killing the pain," he sings with a mixture of anguish and regret, "when the pain stops killing me."
As a street musician, Guitarlos used to display a sign that read "Will Play for Fame or Fortune". With Straight From The Heart, he ought to get some of both.