This is a review of the latest Joe Louis Walker CD from Stony Plain (his third for the label).
One would be hard pressed to find anyone in the past thirty years who has put together a body of recordings as deep and substantial as Joe Louis Walker. Especially his initial recordings on Hightone and then on Verve-Gitanes, Walker has been able to be forward looking as well as rooted in the tradition. Few approach his versatility as both a guitarist and as a vocalist. While his post Verve recordings may not have been on the same level as these earlier masterpieces (and one would be hard-pressed to name a half dozen other recordings the past two decades that approach these blues masterworks), Walker still remains a fervent and quite entertaining performer.
Now on Stony Plains Records, Walker has a new release, “Blues Conspiracy: Live on the Legendary Rhythm 7 Blues Cruise,” that he views as a companion to his two volumes of “Live at Slims” and the “Great Guitars,” that both date from the 1990s. This is a live recording taken from January, 2010 performances on the Cruise with most of these performances featuring Walker and his band joined by guest artists who were on the cruise. Walker’s Band included Linwood taylor on guitar,Kevin Burton on keyboards, Henry Oden on bass and Jeff Minnieweather on drums with guest appearances by the likes of Mike Finnigan on organ and vocals; Johnny Winter, Duke Robillard, Tommy Castro, Tab Benoit, and Kirk Fletcher on guitar; Mitch Woods on piano; Curtis Salgado on vocals; Jason Ricci, Kenny Neal and Watermelon Slim on harmonica; Keith Crossan and Deanna Bogart on saxophones; and Tom Poole on trumpet. These tracks all feature guests on the performances with the exception of one. A good number of the performances here are of songs Walker has previously recorded, but several selections seem not to be have been previously waxed.
From a standpoint of a fan, the guests add a dimension of special occasion that does not always translate to an audio recording. Also, the performances may take away from the focus of the performances with some rough edges and perhaps a bit more emphasis on soloing. Generally these pitfalls are avoided, and the performances are quite fine if they do not quite reach the level of the two volumes of “Live at Slims,” arguably among the toughest live blues recordings of the past two decades. Things start off on a solid note on “Slow Down GTO with Mike Finnigan’s organ joining Walker and his band (and its great that bassist Oden, a Boss Talker from 2 decades ago is back with Walker), and followed by “Ain’t That Cold,” where Johnny Winter’s slide embellishes Walker’s fervent singing. Curtis Salgado and Mike Finnigan share the vocals on the OV Wright classic, “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry,” which is enjoyable but slightly messy and frenzied in execution. Tommy Castro and the horn players join in on the rocking rendition of Travis Phillips’ Louisiana rock’n’roller “Eyes Like a Cat.”
Kirk Fletcher adds some nice guitar to the rendition of Lowell Fulson’s “Ten More Shows to Play,” but “Born in Chicago,” suffers from too many musical cooks with Jason Ricci, Nick Moss and Paris Slim adding solos for a performance that seems longer than it should have. In contrast, “Sugar Mama,” with Watermelon Slim added on harmonica, is the longest track, but allows Walker to stretch out for some inspired playing along with Slim’s nice harp on a performance that seems to take little time at all. Kenny Neal joins on “A Poor Man’s Plea,” adding some Slim Harpo flavored harmonica on Junior Wells’ “A Poor Man’s Plea.” “Its a Shame,” is the track showcasing Walker’s band and Linwood Taylor is featured on guitar here, followed by another jam as pianist Mitch Woods and guitarists Tab Benoit and Paul Nelson join Walker for “747.” Even if not as tight as Walker’s earlier takes on this song, this track is fun way to close this recording and certainly, warts and all, is a worthy addition to his considerable body of music that he has graced us with for such a lengthy period.
My previous reviews of Joe Louis Walker's Stony Plain CDs on this blog are of "Witness to the Blues" and "Between A Rock And The Blues."
For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was supplied by the publicity form for the record company.