When I tell you that Joe Louis Walker plays a cherry red Les Paul and a Paul-styled Yamaha axe, ya just might get a hint of what's to come. This guy is already being acclaimed for his innovative approach to the blues, but I'm not sure it's as much 'innovative' as 'very deeply informed'. With 20 releases to his credit, this one the second for the highly impressive Stony Plain imprint, that's neither small praise nor is it lightly given. Walker sings with a sassy upper register voice but plays like a combination of Jimi, Stevie Ray, Frank Marino, and one of his heroes, Buddy Guy.
Once again, leave it to Duke Robillard to dish up the talent, producing 10 of the 12 cuts here, playing on one, infiltrating that trademark Duke swing influence chockablock with Walker's own. I'm beginning to suspect he's not really human at all but rather a corporate pseudonym for a dozen unnamed individuals: the guy's busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest! Nonetheless, the highlight is Walker and his guitar, and you get plenty of both, what with jumping vocals alongside a band that keeps the rhythms nailed and the atmosphere hot.
If There's a Heaven is grittier than hell, a chugachunk lowball number hopeful of redemption, an inflamed blues lament that digs way beneath the surface. Walker lays down a churning chordal structure as thick and dark as asphalt, then lofts several tightrope solos atop while singing of a lowdown past redeemed by repentance and good deeds, mounting to a burning "I don't wanna go back no mo'!"…and you believe every syllable. It's as good a conversion song as I've heard. If this isn't picked up by any number of rockers and bluesbands, I'll be amazed. When this guy gets his head of steam stoked and boiling, step back or you're going to get rolled over.
Between a Rock and the Blues should bring Mr. Walker much more to the fore. Heaven alone is going to blow minds but the entire release will appeal to all and sundry with its New Orleans, Chicago, and God only knows how many other refrains. He started out way back when as a buddy to Mike Bloomfield…whose tragic death convinced him to change his ways, getting serious, for a while backing gospel groups and later playing with immortals like B.B. King and—excuse me while I bow to Mecca—Peter Green. Williams has been there, done that, and still finds endless ways to, as he himself says of his icons, keep it fresh. Expect, then to hear his surname rolling off a lot more tongues.
Oh, and speaking of innovations, he penned what has to be one of the great riffs on an old old line: "I've been down so long, gettin' up never crossed my mind!" (and that cut, "I've Been Down", features Kevin Eubanks on second guitar; hot damn!).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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