Wily Bo Walker & Danny Flam – Ain’t No Man A Good Man
Mescal Canyon Records
10 songs – 45 minutes
Wily Bo Walker and Danny Flam may not be names that are instantly recognizable to the average blues fan, a situation that can be easily rectified by one listen to Ain’t No Man A Good Man, one of the most impressive roots releases of the year. Featuring 10 tracks mixing blues, soul, swamp, rock, Americana, classic R’n’B and even some reggae, Walker and Flam use a wide range of musicians and instrumentation to create one gloriously uplifting album that bears repeated listening.
Wily Bo Walker (his first name is pronounced “Why-Lee”, as in Wile E. Coyote) is a Scottish singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist blessed with a distinctively ragged voice of mischievous but muscular power, at times sounding like an unholy combination of Dr John’s and Coco Robicheaux. On Ain’t No Man A Good Man, Walker also contributes guitar, electric bass, banjo, tambourine, percussion, sound fx, and backing vocals. Meanwhile, “Horn Guy”, Danny Flam, has won multiple Grammys for his work with artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z and here he adds trombones, trumpets, sousaphone, Hammond organ and backing vocals. Together they are joined by a veritable legion of top class musicians, including Mike Ross, Pete Farrugia, Troy Redfern, Keith Mack and Geoff Slater on guitars; Tommy Rhodes, Clarky, Tom Welsch and Neville L’Green on bass; Max Saidi, Fran Asias, Anthony Sullivan and Marc Ambrosino on drums; Ron Bertolet, Kenny Rampton, Mark Gatz, Mike McGovern, Nir Naaman, Tony Gorruso, Steve Withoft and Alex Bland on horns; Karena K, Stevie Watts, Benjy King, Ruslan Agababayev and Paul Long on keyboards; Li’l Neill and the Brown Sisters of Chicago Gospel Choir on backing vocals; with the Cenovia Cummins String Quartet providing cello and violin. Unfortunately, the press release does not identify which musician plays on which tracks but, despite the multitude of musicians, there is a coherence and singular identity to the music that holds the album together.
Walker’s production is first-rate, as are the quality of the songs – primarily written or co-written by Walker, together with a striking upbeat cover of “St James Infirmary Blues”, which has an irresistibly driven walking bass line.
Highlights about throughout the album. The opening title track hints at Tom Petty’s rootsier numbers, if he’d had Blood, Sweat and Tears as his backing band, while the slide guitar solo on “Walking With The Devil (With Blood On My Hands)” sounds like something Ritchie Blackmore might have played in the early 80s. There’s also a beautiful guitar solo at the beginning of “Night Of The Hunter” that sounds like the Alan Parsons Project playing with raw blues emotion. Walker originally recorded “Ain’t Hungry No More” on his 2014 Rattlin’ Bones release. Here it is given a masterful reggae re-make, with horns that are both threatening and optimistic at the same time. The closing track, “Build My Gallows (Ain’t No Return) taps into the bombastic musical dynamics of Led Zeppelin, while cleverly referencing the title track in the lyrics, while the swinging “Did I Forget” contains a barnstorming baritone sax solo.
There’s a lot to like on Ain’t No Man A Good Man. Great songs, well played and well produced, with stabbing, swinging horn lines that permeate every song, providing impetus, articulation and dynamic contrast. This is a first rate modern blues/roots album that wears its influences proudly. Really impressive.