Wee Willie Walker and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra – Not In My Lifetime
Blue Dot Records
14 songs – 53 minutes
The great soul/blues singer, Wee Willie Walker, died in his sleep in November 2019, just three days after finishing his vocals for Not In My Lifetime, his second recording with Anthony Paule’s Soul Orchestra. He was 77 years old but, on the evidence of this disc, he was still right at the top of his game.
The album opens with a short excerpt from a spoken interview with Willie in which he expresses his enthusiasm for the new album. Willie sounds in great health but says, with desperately sad prescience, “It was the most fun project I’ve ever had the opportunity of working on, because of all the different personalities and great people that are involved. I don’t think it could ever happen again. Not for me. Not in my lifetime.”
Blessed with a powerful, fluid voice that was equally at home with soul, blues or gospel, Walker found his ideal backing group when he connected with the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra who, amongst many other achievements have been the festival house band at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy since 2015. Their technical excellence, wide range and sympathetic backing are all on display in Not In My Lifetime.
The majority of the tracks on the album are self-written by the band, particularly the co-producers Larry Batiste and Christine Vitale together with Poule, but there are also inspired covers of Dee Clark’s 1964 hit, “Heartbreak”, Jerry Ford’s “Warm To Cool To Cold” (which Walker had himself previously recorded for Goldwax Records in 1968) and “Suffering With The Blues”, which has been covered by Little Willie John, Irma Thomas, James Brown and Roomful of Blues, amongst many others. And the covers are indicative of the overall ambiance of the album, with a warm 1960’s soul-blues vibe throughout.
The album was recorded at the 25th Street Studio in Oakland, California with legendary producer, Jim Gaines, and engineer Gabriel Shepard, who capture a superb sound that never feels cluttered, despite the number of instruments and singers. Walker is backed by Paule on guitar and electric sitar, Tony Lufrano on Hammond organ, piano and wurlitzer, Endre Tarczy on bass, Kevin Hayes on drums, Derek James on trombone, Bill Ortiz on trumpet, Charles McNeal and Rob Sudduth on saxophone, and Baptiste, Sandy Griffith and Omega Rae on backing vocals. Guests include Jon Otis on percussion, Curt Ingram on French horn, and The Sons Of Soul Revivers (James Morgan, Dwayne Morgan and Walter Morgan) on backing vocals.
Highlights abound, but the bouncing “I’m Just Like You” could make the dead get up and dance, while “Warm To Cool To Cold” is an object lesson in how to play a shuffle properly. Walker’s vocals on “Let The Lady Dance” are heartbreaking. Special mention should also go to Batiste’s horn arrangements and Tony Lufrano’s charts. The interplay between the instruments on tracks like “Suffering With The Blues” and the instrumental “Almost Memphis” are a delight.
Not In My Lifetime is a superb release and a fitting tribute to one of the most under-rated soul-blues singers of the last 40 years. Magnificent stuff.