Khalif “Wailin’” Walter – Nothin’ Left To Lose
Pepper Cake Records/ZYX-Music
A resident of Chicago since the late 80’s, Khalif “Wailin’” Walter got started on guitar after a brief encounter with B.B. King turned into a half hour lesson with the master. Once bitten, Walter figured there was no better place to get educated on the music than in the Chicago clubs and taverns. His previous release, She Put The Voodoo On Me, came out in 2012, reflecting the lessons learned from his uncle, Carl Weathersby, and a four year stint in the band backing the late Lonnie Brooks.
The legacy of Jimi Hendrix looms large in Walter’s contemporary approach, borne out in the opening tribute, “Reign Down Fire,” one of nine original songs. It is a dark lament delivered by Walter’s restrained vocal, surrounded by bursts of wah-wah flavored guitar outbursts that at several points bounce back & forth between the speakers. From there, the full scope of his artistry unfolds, diverting to a reggae feel on “Why Did I Do It,” with the singer struggling the consequences of cheating, then trying to ease his soul with a tortured guitar excursion.
“Bang” is a short funky instrumental, one of several with Walter using studio magic to play all of the instruments. Another one is “Papa Legba’s Lounge,” with Walter on acoustic guitar and percussion, fashioning a Caribbean feel on a song that takes you to the elusive spiritual crossroads. The legendary New Orleans drummer, Johnny Vidacovich appears on “One Last Nerve,” a straight-ahead shuffle with Walter barking out his anger over the arc of life. Once again, his guitar playing is fluid and tight, shorn of any of the common excesses.
Additional musicians appearing throughout the disc include Daniel “The Funkmachine” Hopf on bass and Jacek “Dr. J” Prokopowitz on the Hammond B-3 organ and piano. Two tracks add horns to the mix, with Matt Shevitz on tenor & alto saxophone, plus Jueren Wieching on baritone & tenor sax. “I’ve Made A Change” finds Walter transformed by the love a special woman, his sweet voice contrasting nicely with the deep tones from Wieching’s baritone. The pace picks up considerably on “Superwoman,” as blasts from the horns riding Adam Grezlak’s driving beat. The musical arrangement deserves deeper lyrical content.
A different issue crops up on “Worries, Worries, Worries,” the longest track on the disc. All is well when Walter’s sings in his normal voice. But, apparently in an effort to highlight his despair, he adopts a mannered approach at times that fails to connect, unlike his guitar playing, which encapsulates the tension conveyed in the song. “Can You Feel My Groove” closes things out on a higher note, Walter delivering another love song with fairly generic lyrics, muting the impact of another impressive arrangement that motors right along, giving Prokopowitz a chance to shine.
All in all, a solid release of contemporary blues, done in a variety of styles, that show that Khalif “Wailin’” Walter has the vocal and guitar skills, plus the songwriting ability, that should allow him to find a wider audience in the world-wide blues community.