Joe Louis Walker has a brand new cd out this month called Between A Rock and the Blues and if you are not familiar with Joe’s enthusiastic take on all things blue then this is a body of work to take notice of. (Between A Rock and the Blues is his second album with the respected Canadian based Stony Plain record label but he has released twenty albums in total over his career.) Walker is no mimsy, wannabe poser but instead combines all the energy and licks of a Buddy Guy with a quietly intentional swing that may be partly attributed to arch producer and swing-God himself Duke Robillard who produced the lion’s share of tracks on this album. There’s some pretty impressive songwriting skills from Walker on show as well and that also makes this record distinctive from just another blues record for the masses.
There are some very impressive musical personalities here to help Walker out. Kevin Eubanks well known of course for his guitar expertise and musical direction on The Tonight Show makes an appearance on two tracks (which he also helped co-write) namely I’ve Been Down and If There’s A Heaven and additionally, Eubanks provided his own studio in Los Angeles for Walker’s production of the tunes. I particularly like If there’s a Heaven which is gutsy and heart-felt and feels as though it was lifted from a vintage gospel radio station. (One that I would like to find!) Listen up for the insistent band in the background – ever present, always groovin’ – but completely tight and providing the perfect foil for Walker’s rasping and tortured vocals – which are superb. Some of the band members will be familiar names for anyone who is a follower of Duke Robillard. Doug James is here on sax and Bruce Katz on keyboards and that certainly helps to inject that telltale element of swing that is so often associated with Robillard. And of course I am a shameless fan myself - as regular readers will already know! (Hi Mum …) Haha.
This cd is kind of all over the place in terms of blues style (and many with a rock tinged sensibility hence the clever album title) so really, this is the kind of record that could serve as both a ‘sampler” for those just dabbling in the blues as well as a hand-me-that-one for long car journeys or evenings in. Tell Me Why is another tune destined for the ‘repeat’ button and Walker really gives it his all – it’s all about that heavy chunky locomotive shuffle coupled with some really scalding guitarwork. (Incidentally, in spite of all his strenuous enquiries, I don’t think Joe ever really does find out why, does he …)
Perhaps JLW’s greatest strength – aside from the ability to pull off some stinging, powerful guitar phrasing, I mean – is the completely believable passion that he brings to his records. Click on the play button below for some samples to listen to and see what you think.