Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker
Witness to the Blues

Stony Plain Records, SPCD 1337

By Brian D. Holland
October 2008

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Joe Louis Walkerís latest release, Witness to the Blues, is an all-inclusive collection of wonderful songs.

Since many blues aficionados have a tendency to put Walker atop the list of modern-day greats - those who are carrying the torch and keeping the music alive - Witness to the Blues is certainly assisting in that endeavor. And itís fitting for Duke Robillard to jump in to lend his producing and guitar playing talents (as well as the rest of his band) to the project, as they both have so much in common.

The fact that both artists record for Stony Plain Records more than likely had a lot to do with making the partnership happen, but fate transpires in many steps sometimes.

Although they both share an interest in the music of T Bone Walker, another aspect of common ground is their aptitude for diversity, a trait that also goes back to the great T Bone.

The only repetitive aspect about the album is the quality of the music, and the fact that itís all fine blues, except perhaps for ďWitness.Ē Though fine music as well, itís more of a contemporary ballad than anything in a traditional sense, and it adds nicely to the varied mix.

Duke does a superb job on both electric and acoustic guitar throughout, and his skills as co-producer are evident. Add in drummer Mark Teixeira, keyboardist Bruce Katz, bassist Jon Ross, and Doug James and Scott Aruda on horns. Two-thirds of the songs on the 11-track disc were penned by Walker, and it all comes together as a genuine collection of assorted blues.

Nevertheless, Joeís vocal sound is what itís all about, and his Jimmy Reed-like harmonica playing and solid guitar work shine as well. His voice is raw and unrefined, and perfect for the Chicago style intensity thatís prevalent in a lot of the songs.

“Itís A Shame” opens the album. The J.J. Malone written soul tune stresses Walkerís adoration for the styles of both James Brown and Otis Redding. The background horn section and its rhythmic interplay aids in maximizing the palpable funk feel from start until finish.

“Midnight Train” is an interesting gallop into a rockabilly blues area, in which both Robillard and Walker convey the notion that theyíre not only more than used to playing this style of music, but that theyíre having a good time doing it.

“Loverís Holiday” features Shemekia Copeland in a lead vocal duet with Walker. Both shine in the r&b classic, as does Robillard, with solid lead guitar additives in a Steve Cropper groove.

“Hustliní” flows along in a lethargic yet soulful Chicago manner.

Both “Sugar Mama” (featuring British blues guitarist Todd Sharpville,) and “Rolliní and Tumblin” are in a Chicago style as well. However, the latter is done in more of a 60s Butterfield-Bloomfield approach.

“I Got What You Need” is an acoustic blues. Both Walker and Robillard excel in this Delta flavored song.

Witness to the Blues is a fine collection of songs from Walker. The music is genuine, and diversity shines everywhere - keeping it interesting and pleasing throughout. Much of the credit goes to Robillard, because nobody keeps busier in the quest to create excellent blues music - on other peopleís records as well as on his own.

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