Jay Willie Blues Band – Jay Walkin’ | Album Review

Jay Willie Blues Band – Jay Walkin’

Zoho Roots ZM201710

12 songs – 42 minutes


The Connecticut-based Jay Willie Blues Band tips its collective hat to the music of the ‘20s through ‘60s with Jay Walkin’. A mixture of five originals and seven well-crafted covers, it’s a follow-up to the band’s successful 2016 release, Hell On Wheels and includes the same cast of characters that made it the unit’s best one yet.

A singer/guitarist who’s heavily influenced by Johnny Winter, Jay Willie fronts the veteran quartet, which includes Bob Callahan on second guitar, Bobby T. Torello on drums and multi-instrumentalist Paul Opalach on bass, lap steel, keyboard, guitar and percussion, all of whom provide vocals here.

They’re augmented by Malorie Leogrande, who tours the world with her five-octave voice and is featured on two cuts, and Jason Ricci, who sets aside his usual harmonica pyrotechnics here and demonstrates exceptional traditional technique on the reeds for two others.

The album was captured at Long Hill Recording Studio in Shelton, Conn., under the direction of Opalach. It opens with a cover of “Wish I Hadn’t Called Home.” Penned by country music legend Roger Miller and a 1961 hit for early rock-‘n’-roller Dale Hawkins, it’s a medium-tempo walking blues that swings from the jump as Jay delivers lyrics that describe an ill-advised conversation. Guitar and harp drive the beat as he recounts the woman heaping abuse and laughing as she hears the singer crying on the other end of the line. Willie’s rather limited voice is pleasant and his guitar slinging compliments him well.

The tempo picks up slightly for the original, “Jay Walkin’,” a humorous tale about no longer being able to drive after being pulled over for driving drunk. The vocals improve dramatically on the next two numbers with Malorie in control.

First up is a re-do of “Hitting On Nothing,” a 1963 hit for Irma Thomas. Written for The Detroit Cobras by Allen Toussaint’s under the pseudonym Naomi Neville, it’s an uptempo pleaser complete with a synthesized horn section and the message to a lover that the only way to please the singer is that if “there’s something in it for me.” It’s backed with the Willie-penned ballad, “The Other Side,” a bittersweet number that yearns for a better time in the relationship.

Ricci’s harp dazzles on “44 Blues.” One of the most recorded blues tunes ever, it was penned by by Roosevelt Sykes in 1929 and a mainstay in Howlin’ Wolf’s catalog, but gets a surprisingly different treatment here, followed by a cover of J.B. Lenoir’s “I Feel So Good.” Up next, the Callahan-penned “Move Over” is an uptempo rocker with an old-time feel that gives way to a guitar-driven cover of “Sinner’s Prayer,” written by 1950s heavyweights Lowell Fulson and Lloyd Glenn.

Two more originals – Willie’s funky “Step Aside” and Torello’s blues rocker “Go To Guy” – precede “How Blue Can You Get,” the B.B. King standard co-written by jazz critic Leonard Feather and wife Jane that was first performed by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. The disc concludes with an interesting, barebones electric blues cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1930 composition “Soul Of A Man.”

A well-conceived album, the covers are fresh and the originals interesting throughout. Available through Amazon and CDBaby, Jay Walkin’ is right up your alley if you like your music delivered with a roadhouse feel.

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