Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joe Louis Walker Was and Is a Blues Survivor

Going back through the archives at the Jazz & Blues Report I came across my review of Joe Louis Walker’s Blues Survivor that was on Verve/Gitanes. In light of my review of his just issued Blues Conspiracy, I thought it would be useful to look back 16 years to a review that appeared in the January/February 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 188).

Joe Louis Walker’s first studio album in several years, Blues Survivor, is also his first for Verve, and it will hopefully provide him with recognition outside of the world of blues aficionados. Produced by Walker and John Snyder, this superb effort incorporates variety of musical sources for a thoroughly modern, yet tradition rooted, album of blues. Those familiar with Walker’s prior recordings won’t be surprised by his performances here, but will recognize how he has continued to hone his singing and guitar playing. His performances are thoughtful, and passionate, with a razor’s edge attack, displaying the ‘relaxed intensity’ that marks blues. With the exception of a great remake of Howlin’ Wolf’s Shake For Me (where he uses the Electric Flag’s arrangement for Killing Floor), Sarah Brown‘s Bad Thing, and Patrick Norris’ Put You Down Baby, the songs are originals by Walker or his long-time bassist, Henry Oden. The opening Help Yourself is a gospel-tinged number with an upbeat message and some well-played slide, with Lucky Peterson on organ and the Singing Corinthians (a gospel group Walker once was a member of) adding vocal backing.Walker’s Rainy Nights has a nice lyric set against the Ramblin’ on My Mind/Dust My Broom melodic motif, but taken at relaxed trotting tempo, and featuring an excellent slide solo with Walker sounding like Elmore James crossed with Robert Nighthawk. Henry Oden’s My Dignity, another outstanding performance, has melodic echoes of the jazz standard Walking and the Bobby Bland hit Ain’t Doing Too Bad and sports a great tenor sax solo by Richard Howell in addition to Walker’s tough vocal. These are high points on a terrific album full of top-notch performances. Blues Survivor shows Joe Louis Walker to be more than a survivor. He is equally adept as a writer, vocalist and guitarist, and one of the most compelling voices in the blues today.

16 years later, the last sentence of the review still holds true. I would say that Blues Survivor likely will be on any list of Joe Louis Walker’s best recordings. Given how good his recordings are, that says a lot. It appears Blues Survivor may be out of print but there are sellers on amazon that have new and used copies that you can check out (or you try ebay). Neither amazon nor itunes has this available for download.

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