Joe Louis Walker – Viva Las Vegas Live | Album Review

Joe Louis Walker – Viva Las Vegas Live

Cleopatra Records CLO 1308

10 songs – 80 minutes plus 85-minute concert film DVD

Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker is one of the energetic performers in the blues, something he’s proven time and time again in a career that spans six decades. And he’s at top form in this stellar set, which was captured before an enthusiastic audience at Boulder Station Casino in Las Vegas during a 2018 tour.

Now in his early 70s, Walker started out as a child prodigy in San Francisco, where he picked up the guitar for the first time at age 14, playing rock. A longtime roommate of guitar legend Mike Bloomfield, he cut his teeth musically during the Seismic ’60s, hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead, before moving to Chicago and immersing himself in the blues.

As he started to dominate the music scene in the mid-‘70s, Joe turned to gospel, joining The Spiritual Corinthians for a decade, returning to the blues after gigging at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1985. Since recording Cold Is the Night on the Hightone imprint a year later, he hasn’t looked back, sharing the stage and recording studio with everyone from John Lee Hooker, James Cotton and B.B. King to Buddy Miles, Thelonious Monk and dozens more.

His well-received 2018 Alligator album, Journey to the Heart of the Blues – recorded with keyboard player Bruce Katz and British harp player Giles Robson, was his 24th studio release in a career that’s included a handful of other live albums.

Accompanied by an 85-minute DVD directed by Brent Backhus, which includes an exclusive backstage interview, Viva Las Vegas Live finds Walker backed by an all-star band that includes Bruce Bears of the Duke Robillard Band on keyboards with Lenny Bradford (Vanessa Collier) on bass and Dorian Randolph (Murali Coryell) on drums, all of whom provide backing vocals.

A collection of seven originals, one cover and re-dos of two songs in the public domain, the concert opens with a fiery take on Walker’s “I’m Not Messin’ Around,” which first appeared on his 1998 Preacher and the President CD. It gives Bears plenty of space to shine before Joe smokes on the six-string.

The fan favorite, “Young Girls Blues,” lopes out of the gate and swings unhurried throughout before Joe reinvents the traditional “Sugar Mama.” First recorded in 1934, authorship has been credited to Yank Rachell, Sonny Boy Williamson or Tampa Red on different occasions. Walker’s slow and steady extended guitar intro builds in intensity from a whisper to a roar for six minutes before he breaks it down again. After launching into the vocal, he takes an extended harp solo and yields to Bears for another in a track that’s 16 minutes long.

The funk kicks in with a repetitive guitar hook and superb fret work from Bradford to open “Do You Love Me?” before exploding into an eight-minute blues-rocker. Still a deeply spiritual man, Walker delivers a pair of gospel tunes next, opening with “In the Morning,” the traditional that served as the title cut for his 2002 Telarc release, followed by his own “Soldier for Jesus.”

The church feel continues with organ fills on the jazzy “You Don’t Love Me Girl,” a cover from Joe’s 2004 New Direction album, before the ballad “Black & Blue” describes the feeling of loneliness even more. The cautionary “Too Drunk to Drive Drunk” follows before a cover of “Like It This Way,” written by Fleetwood Mac’s Danny Kirwan, brings the concert to a close.

Available through most major retailers, and rock-solid throughout.

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