Joe Louis Walker recently joined Alligator’s roster of artists and his first album for that label, Hellfire, has just been released. It is produced by Tom Hambridge, who produced Buddy Guy’s recent recordings. Hambridge also plays drums and contributes songs to this release. Of the supporting personnel, the only names I recognize are pianist and organist Reese Wynans as well The Jordanaires who contribute backing vocals on a couple tracks. Hambridge had a hand in the first five tracks here, while Walker himself added five new songs as well. Having been listening to Walker since his first release in 1986 Cold Is The Night, he has produced a number of the best blues albums of the last quarter century. He certainly is passionate here, a term Bruce Iglauer uses in his liner notes, and there is much to enjoy, although not everything is perfect.
The album starts with the title track, a gospel-laced song with an impassioned, gritty vocal about avoiding the Devil’s lure. He plays a blues-rock guitar solo with a nasty distorted tone that is unpleasant to listen to. and undermines the appeal of the impassioned performance. The second track, I Won’t Do That, is a nice original with Walker singing about being faithful and that he won’t cheat or let his woman down. Walker adds a searing solo here. Ride All Night sounds like a Rolling Stones’ inspired rocker on which Walker convincingly sings and plays. Walker picks up the harmonica for a rocking shuffle, I’m On To You. The lyric is about knowing about the bad things his woman is doing. In addition to doubling on the harmonica here, he plays a crisp guitar solo. What’s It Worth has a nice lyric although it would have benefited from toning down the hard rock edges heard during the song’s choruses.
Soldier For Jesus, the first of Walker’s originals, and has a fervent vocal with the Jordanaires providing support. Walker brings a soulful edge to I Know Why, a lovely blues-ballad. Too Drunk to Drive is an amusing and delightful excursion into “rock and roll,” with rollicking piano and driving guitar. The lively Don’t Cry, is another performance with a spiritual message on which he sings that instead of saving his money he is now saving his soul. The disc closes with a cover of Hank Snow’s country classic, I’m Movin’ On, played with a boogie groove that Walker places his personal stamp on.
Walker has more of a presence on this recording than on some of his other recent ones. Hambridge’s production must be credited, although as noted at a few places the playing gets a little over-the-top. If uneven, Hellfire is still a significant addition to Walker’s body of recordings.
My review copy was provided by Alligator Records. Here is some vintage Joe Louis Walker from 1993.