Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz and Giles Robson – Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues
UK Blues harpist Giles Robson met Joe Louis Walker at the Amstelveen Blues Festival in the Netherlands in 2016 and was asked to sit in with him for a couple of numbers. He recorded a CD that year that returned to basic, traditional styled electric blues and when he met Walker he had the initial idea to develop a joint recording project. He listened to a lot of stuff and wanted to do a stripped down album of tunes. Walker agreed and suggested Bruce Katz, which Robson thought was a great idea. The three rehearsed for three days and recorded and mixed for five days at NRS Studio in Woodstock, NY to put their own spin on songs by many early blues greats. After listening to this CD, I must say they did a wonderful job.
“Mean Old Train” gets things started. Walker howls out the lead vocals, the harp is greasy and the piano is in the groove. This Papa Lightfoot train tune is a nice start for this set that Robson put together. Sunnyland Slim’s “It’s You Baby” offers up some more beautiful traditional blues with Walker picking and singing, Katz tinkling those keys and Robson blowing mean harp. Things slow way down for “I’m A Lonely Man,” a Rice Miller/Sunny Boy Williamson II cut. At this point, the minimalistic approach settles in nicely with the listener. Drums and a bass are not needed as the three continue to impress with their prowess. The harp is dirty and cool, the guitar is restrained but poignant and the piano is beautifully done. Slow and sublime, this is killer stuff. Washboard Sams’ “You Got To Run Me Down” is a rollicking and fun jump tune. Katz strides up and down the keyboard, Walker picks out some nice stuff and sings with authority. Robson sits this one out and the duo nails it. Blind Willie McTell’s “Murderer’s Home” is up next, a song about the despair about a return trip to jail. The tone of the cut is supported nicely by the trio and this slow blues comes off well as we feel the despair in their singing and playing. “Feel Like Blowin’ My Horn” is an old Roosevelt Sykes cut. This mid-tempo blues has Walker singing with authority and Katz banging the keys with equal forthrightness. The guitar solo is another stinging one and the piano solo follows similarly. Robson’s harp punctuates things sweetly.
“Hell Ain’t But A Mile And A Quarter” is next, a St. Louis Red honky tonk cut. Katz sets the tone on the piano and Walker once again shows his vocal abilities. No guitar, no harp, just a well done piano and vocal duet with lots of charm. The lone original follows. “G&J Boogie” was written by Giles and Joe and features harp and guitar sparring instrumentally in a very nice little boogie. Big Maceo’s “Poor Kelly Blues” gets a great treatment by the threesome as Walker testifies with emotion. The harp, piano and guitar sting and flutter about to match the vocals. “Chicago Breakdown” is another Big Maceo cut featuring Katz’ piano. He goes solo here on this grand instrumental showcasing why Walker wanted him on this album– so well done! “Hard Pill To Swallow” is a Son Bonds tune where the trio combine to set another great slow blues groove into motion and sell it well. Walker gets big solo here which is quite down home and cool and the Robson follows with his own. Things finish off with “Real Gone Lover,” a song popularized by Smiley Lewis. Stinging harp and a great guitar and piano groove make this special as does Walker’s authoritative vocal work.
This is a great CD. Walkers vocals are superb. He emanates the blues every time he opens his mouth. His guitar work is also interesting and cool. This is not the big, in your face electric guitar we’re accustomed to from him. Bruce Katz is, well, Bruce Katz. Few can make blues piano sound so good; he is a master at his craft. Robson has a unique tone and approach to his harp, making this collaboration even slicker. I enjoyed their take on the 11 classics and the new instrumental– there is some really cool stuff here. No rhythm section as a backup and you don’t notice. It’s a stripped down and excellent interpretation and set of performances– if you like traditional blues then this is for you– go out and buy it now, you won’t regret it!