Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Joe Louis Walker In The Morning

 Joe Louis Walker is to me the most important modern blues artist to emerge over the past two decades. I reviewed his debut in Living Blues and have been following and writing his subsequent releases as he moved from Hightone to Verve and then to other labels including Telarc, JSP, Stony Plain and most recently Alligator. Here is a the first part of a review I did of two releases by him that came out in 2002 and that I reviewed in the September 2002 DC Blues Calendar. I believe I received a review copy of In The Morning and possibly the DVD, but I may have purchased the Guitar Brothers.

Few artists have emerged in the blues in the past two decades who have produced as distinguished a body of recordings as Joe Louis Walker. With his relationship to Verve (now Blue Thumb) terminated) he has two very different new discs to choose from, each with a slightly different flavor. 

In the Morning (Telarc Blues) is his debut for that label where he is backed by a studio band that includes G.E. Smith who used to lead the Saturday Night Live Band. Opening with a hot latin groove on You’re About to Lose Your Clown, this disc has perhaps a bittersweet lyrical and melodic flavor. This is not to take anything away from Walker’s typically strong singing and inventive playing. He can rock with the best of them, provide some stunning driving slide, insert some jazz inflections or solid acoustic all the while bring his gospel-rooted soulful singing to the front. 

The title track has a pop melodic tone and the use of a backing vocal chorus as he sings about rising and wiping the tears from his eyes. Joe’s Jump is a shuffle with a lyric about his women telling she loved him, told him a lie before they start to jam but the playing never really seems to find a focus. Much better is Leave That Girl Alone with nice jazzy touches to the playing.

Where Jesus Leads is a nice gospel number with a slightly downhome flavor to its relatively sparse accompaniment. Another highpoint is Strange Loving with a driving rhythm. There is a remake of the Rolling Stones instrumental 2120 Michigan Avenue that I would rather here Walker do with his own band than the band here which sounds a bit too controlled and the performance lacks some focus.

The JSP disc Guitar Brothers with his friend Otis Grand comes across as hotter and sounds more spontaneous. The opening Snake Bit, with Walker playing some nice slide, is followed with a shuffle, Imitation Ice Cream Blues whose lightweight lyric perhaps gets a strong vocal nonetheless.The tight shuffle groove allows the two guitarists to stretch out here. I Like It This Way has the two exchanging licks, Walker playing a phrase with Grand repeating it and Grand echoes Walker’s in a similar fashion. 

Better Off Alone is a Grand original that has the feel of some of Walker’s early albums with some terrific playing as well as Walker with a superb vocal performance. B.B. King’s Friends is one of two instrumentals to showcase the two trading choruses, the other being Bliss Street Blues which also has harp from George Bisharat. A nice R&B groove marks Johnny Guitar Watson’s I’m Getting Drunk as Walker takes a slashing Watson styled solo and Grand takes the song out with Walker joining at the end of this exciting performance. 

Rude Woman is built on an irresistible rock and roll (not hard rock) groove that sounds like it could have been written in the fifties or sixties. One almost expects Chuck Berry to turn up for a solo here. Regal Blues is a tribute to B.B. King with its lyrics invoking one of B.B.’s classic recordings (“It’s my own fault, guess I will blame It on You,” as well as recalling that when he first heard Lucille (BB’s guitar) it knocked him out. While this recording has the flavor of a jam, the empathy between Walker and Grand make this, to these ears, a more satisfactory recording than In the Morning.

In addition, Walker has a performance available on DVD, Live at “On Broadway” on Blues Express. It contains eight very solid performances, both solo and with his band The Boss Talkers along with interview segments talking about the songs and various topics. The music is strong enough that the video of the performance is a bonus. Oddly he has no keyboards in his current band. Definitely worth checking out for those with DVD players. 

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