Monday, May 18, 2009

Witness to the Blues reviewed by Steve Jones

Witness to the Blues
Joe Louis Walker
Stony Plain Records
11 tracks

Joe Louis Walker is a powerful and moving bluesman. His guitar work is impeccable and his vocals, for the most part, are also quite good. This CD is his first for Stony Plain and it is strongly recommended for Walker’s fans and anyone who likes to hear a variety of blues styles delivered by a great performer and some exceptional talent who back him up! Duke Robbilard produced the CD and appears on it as do piano great Bruce Katz, Shemekia Copeland, and a host of others.

Variety is the spice of life and Walker gives us a variety of blues formats, from full blown Chicago blues to more traditional electric blues, to R&B and then to barrelhouse blues. A big, driving cover of “It’s a Shame” starts it off, and the horns and rhythm section are up to the task as is Walker. He then shows us the style of his former mentor John Lee Hooker with an original tune called “Midnight Train” before moving into the R&B world doing a spicy duet with Shemekia Copeland on “Lover’s Holiday”. “Hustlin” follows, an original tune with Walker greasing the strings up while Katz provides ample support on the piano. Walker’s voice here is good but it seems to start fading a bit. On the fifth track he completely loses it vocally, scratching out an original tune entitled “Witness”. He strains and almost painfully struggles vocally in this slower R&B number, the only real low point on an otherwise superb disc.

In “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and the closing track “Sugar Mama” he gives us a fresh and really bluesy look at two old favorites. The squeaky high pitched harmonica licks on the latter are also quite striking and his vocals here are faultless; this was my favorite track. Except for the vocals on one track, this is super disc. Joe Louis Walker probably does not get the props that many other blues guitarists get, which is a shame. This is a remarkable CD that is quite tight and well put together. I highly recommend it!

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