Carlos Guitarlos: Hell Can Wait (Nomad), by Dan Forte, Vintage Guitar, March 2006

This former guitarist with L.A.’s Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs and fixture as a San Francisco street performer follows 2003’s impressive Straight From The Heart with an even stronger outing. The songs are better; the production more polished; and Carlos’ vocals (while ranging from ravaged to powerful) are an improvement.

His guitar playing can be aggressive, even ham-fisted, but suits the material and is invariably the perfect complement to his vocals, as well as those by guests Marcy Levy and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. Levy, who was part of Eric Clapton’s outfit, off and on, from the mid 1970s to the mid ’80s, smoothes Guitarlos’ rough edges without compromising his personality, providing backup on several numbers and dueting with Carlos on the country speedster “My Old Dead Body” and the Stax-flavored “I Found Someone,” which the two co-wrote.

Hidalgo provides accordion on the Cajun two-step “Keep Me Satisfied,” with Carlos on acoustic, and Blaster/T-Bird Gene Taylor lends organ to the jazzy ballad “Drinkin’ Again” and barrelhouse piano to several others, but the repertoire is mainly blues, with a rock-solid rhythm section. Hidalgo and Guitarlos split vocal and lead duties on the Otis Rush-tinged “Shake My Blue” – David’s melodicism contrasting nicely with Guitarlos’ sixstring sting (and one of his strongest vocals).

Beginning and ending the 19-song program are two solo acoustic numbers. “Love Me From The Start” shows that Carlos is right at home in ragtimey mode, while the stark “I’ve Been Dead” (which he co-wrote with Top Jimmy Koncek) is reminiscent of early Tom Waits, a running buddy of the late Koncek.