May 18, 2024

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CD review: Tower of Power – Step Up 2020: Video, CD cover

Tower of Power – or TOP, as they’re known in some corners – has still got it goin’ on. After 52 years in the game, the legendary Oakland soul-funk group continues to churn out new music and tour extensively.

Today the 10-piece band premieres the title track off their forthcoming 27th album, Step Up, on American Songwriter. It’s a freewheeling soul-funk number that sees the group at their grooviest, showcasing Jerry Cortez’s guitar chops and a stunning organ solo by keyboardist Roger Smith. Meanwhile, the band’s famed horn section sounds just as dynamic as ever, punctuating “Step Up” with rhythmic spurts of saxophone and trumpet. But the song is ultimately carried by electric lead and back-up vocals that will make you want to get up and dance.

Step Up follows Tower of Power’s superb 50th anniversary album–2018’s Soul Side of Town–though each of the records’ 14 songs were recorded during the same session.

Tower of Power’s lineup has gone through many iterations over the years, but the band is currently rounded out by lead vocalist Marcus Scott, baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, bassist Marc Van Wageningen, drummer David Garibaldi, lead tenor saxophonist Tom Politzer, trumpeter Adolfo Acosta, and trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo in addition to Cortez, Smith, and Castillo. Van Wageningen replaced longtime TOP bassist Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia, who is featured on Step Up but no longer tours with the band (TOP’s last lead vocalist, Ray Greene, is also featured on Step Up).

As with previous Tower of Power releases, Step Up sees Castillo and his crew pulling from R&B, jazz, rock, blues, and pop to craft songs that feel intensely alive and expansive. For Castillo, this quality is a natural outcome of his songwriting process.

When asked about his band’s staying power, Castillo was quick to credit his collaborators–both earthly and divine.

“As far as longevity goes,” says Castillo, “I’ve been blessed to work with some very wonderful and talented people. I make the music exactly as I want it to be, [which] makes it really easy to go to work on a daily basis. And then before I knew it I was in my 52nd year. I give God all the credit!”


01. East Bay! All the Way! (0:54)
02. Step Up (5:10)
03. The Story of You and I (4:47)
04. Who Would Have Thought? (3:58)
05. Addicted to You (4:45)
06. Look in My Eyes (3:44)
07. You da One (4:23)
08. Sleeping with You Baby (5:43)
09. If It’s Tea Give Me Coffee (3:16)
10. Beyond My Wildest Dreams (4:52)
11. Any Excuse Will Do (4:41)
12. If You Wanna Be a Winner (3:21)
13. Let’s Celebrate Our Love (4:36)
14. East Bay! Oaktown All the Way! (1:05)

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