Released 9 October 2015 via Mascot Label Group
Consider the blues. There are few examples of a folk music so deeply entwined into the history of our times, its tragedies and triumph and the slow, relentless cycle of injustice.
It’s an old story, often repeated, but somehow equally as often hidden in plain sight.
It is 200 years since the blockade of the Royal Navy and the interdiction of the North American slave trade. More than a million exiles, their children bred as livestock, a mix of dozens of vibrant and sophisticated nations, were divided and segregated. Somehow they gathered together the shards of their diverse cultures and produced a music of defining power and grace, that re-wrote the rule book of Western musical theory.
That music can still be heard today: an unbroken chain linking it to the great diaspora, the post bellum journeys north and west from the Deep South, true freedom ever proving an illusion. The flames of hope in a Georgia night led to a bitter dawn and the failures of reconstruction. The war was won but the peace was lost as a man lay dying at Ford’s Theatre.
The music is a story, a narrative of the times and suffering of a race history has denied. Full of warm, self-deprecating humour, raw sexuality, the pain of the ages and above all: hope. It is rich in metaphor and hidden meaning.
The affection and understanding between these four men is a powerful testament to the ties of the music that binds community and family together to endure down the long years.
With success stretching back 40 years, from his emergence as a teen prodigy in San Francisco in the 1960s, veteran bluesman Joe Louis Walker has little left to prove. His biography contains a who’s who of the great and the good on the blues scene from John Lee Hooker to Jimi Hendrix, Branford Marsalis to Nick Lowe.
These days he eschews celebrity collaborations, preferring the steady companionship of his long-standing touring band. The album, conceived and written mostly during sound checks, is a testament to the love that exists between these four men. Walker comes across as a reluctant front man, “hell, someone’s got to do it”, he seems to say. He may be the glue that binds the team together but the album is about the band and their musical journey.
This is a record of swing, style and grace. Recorded live at producer Paul Nelson’s Chop Shop Studio, the former Johnny Winter sideman sensibly guides with a light touch, letting the musicians take centre stage.
Opening the album is Everyone Wants a Piece; Walker’s busy riff leading into an extended introduction, with keyboard player Phillip Young’s organ (strictly a Nord electro 4 for pedants) channelling Jimmy Smith before the rhythm section of Lenny Bradford on bass and drummer Byron Cage takes us smoothly into a New Orleans-inspired shuffle, Walker ripping of a pair of electric blue solos as the piece climaxes.
Do I Love Her? and Buzz on You could have been recorded at any time in the past 50 years, but sound fresh and urgent. The affection and understanding between these four men is a powerful testament to the ties of the music that binds community and family together to endure down the long years.
Walker acknowledges this musical journey on the accompanying video: “What I was setting out to accomplish was to show a variety, from what I grew up with, a journey.”
A mix of traditional songs, well-written originals and interesting covers including the stand-out blues funk of Man of Many Words and a reworking of the old underground railway anthem Wade in the Water (where the story turns full circle). Developed in the early 19th century and sung in the few Christian churches that would accept slaves into the congregation, Wade in the Water contains coded maps of the path to freedom, 3000 miles to the north and was, and remains, a metaphor for a never-ending story.
A fine album by a classic blues man with original material and covers that fold seamlessly into the house style of this hugely competent band. And it continues to be relevant because the story is still unfolding.
So listen to this record and study the history – or be doomed to play your part in its repetition.
Artist: Joe Louis Walker
Label: Mascot Label Group
A fine album by a classic blues man, original material and covers all folded seamlessly into the house style of this hugely competent band.