Joe Louis Walker – Blues Comin’ On
Cleopatra Records CL 01714
12 songs – 62 minutes
An enduring force who’s been expanding the boundaries of the blues since the mid-‘80s, Joe Louis Walker calls out the big guns on this explosive album, delivering a heaping helping of what fans have come to love: red-hot guitar and one of the most distinctive voices in the business.
A survivor of psychedelic rock and the earth-shattering music scene of his native San Francisco, where he earned degrees in music and English at San Francisco State University and roomed with former Paul Butterfield Blues Band axe master Mike Bloomfield, Walker drifted from the blues to gospel in the mid-‘70s as a member of the Spiritual Corinthians. But this is the 26th album under his own name since returning to the root on the Hightone label with his band, the Bosstalkers, in 1986.
A collection of five originals and seven interesting and surprising covers, Blues Comin’ On features guest appearances from several of the biggest names in the music industry, including Eric Gales, Keb’ Mo’, Albert Lee, Jorma Kaukonen, John Sebastian, Dion DiMucci, Lee Oskar of War/The Lowriders, punk-rock vocalist Charlie Harper and legendary sessions guitarist Waddy Wachtel – and that’s not all!
Recorded at NRS Studio in Catskills, N.Y., the lineup rotates from cut to cut and also features Jellybean Johnson, David Bromberg, Arlen Roth and Jesse Johnson on guitar, Vanessa Collier on horns, Rick Estrin on harmonica and Bruce Katz, Philip Young and Eric Finland on keyboards. They’re anchored by John Bradford and Scott Petito on bass, Dorian Randolph, Tom Hambridge, Byron Cage and Juma Sultan on percussion with Carla Cooke handling lead vocals on two cuts and Amalia Rubin and several of the instrumentalists lending their voices in backing roles, too.
Co-written with Mick Jagger’s son, Gabe, the action opens with “Feed the Poor,” a powerful, dark, slow-blues burner with Kaukonen on lead guitar on Katz on organ. It’s built atop the image of a man dying in the gutter as it urges charity and states that the person easily could have been you or me. Dion takes the lead, delivering the opening vocal before yielding to Joe and adding acoustic guitar, for his self-penned “Blues Comin’ On.” It’s a medium-paced shuffle that builds intensity throughout aided by Wachtel, Gales and Walker on guitars and a trio of percussionists.
The feel changes dramatically for the light-and-airy “Someday, Someway,” on which Cooke and Walker trade vocals with harp accents from Oskar. Not to be confused with either the ‘60s hit by The Marvelettes or another with the same title by Marshall Crenshaw, it’s a sweet-and-soulful blues that celebrates a building love affair that will endure the ages.
Johnson, the guitarist who rose to fame with The Time in the ‘70s, is at his funky best as he delivers the lead to Joe Louis’ “The Thang.” It’s pure old-school with Walker’s spoken vocal verging on rap as it introduces new dance moves. Joe’s on 12-string with Keb’ on slide and Sebastian on harp for the propulsive, country-blues flavored “Old Time Used to Be,” an attempt to convince a former love to forget about her new love and return to his arms.
Bradford’s funky bass line kicks off his original, “Come Back Home,” a silky smooth urban blues that features Ryder at the mic and understated licks for Joe Louis with Collier on horns and strong runs on the keys from Young. Next up, Walker takes on Bobby Rush’s familiar “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man,” updating it with a harder edge and a helping hand from Estrin, Wachtel and Katz. The mood quiets again for “Awake Me, Shake Me,” another soulful ballad with dual vocals, before Joe turns Charlie Rich’s country classic, “Lonely Weekends,” into a stop-time, gospel-tinged acoustic blues complete with choral accompaniment.
The uptempo original, “Seven More Steps,” sings praise of life with a lady who consistently helps take away the struggles of the day before two more covers — “Uptown to Harlem,” penned by funk pioneer Betty Mabry and a 1967 hit for the Chambers Brothers, and “7 & 7 Is,” first recorded by Eyes of Blue in 1968 – bring the disc to a pleasant close.
Joe Louis Walker has released some phenomenal albums in his lengthy career, but this one ranks high with his all-time best – which is truly saying something. Run, don’t walk to buy this one. You’ll be glad you did!