All the rage these days aren’t they, these guest artist album collaborations? Sometimes I wonder whether there’s much purpose to them, or much clarity of direction. But it has to be said that recent examples from Mike Zito – in tribute to Chuck Berry – and Dion have certainly cut the mustard. And now this outing from Joe Louis Walker can be added to that list.
To my mind, Walker is one of the leading bluesmen of our times, an inventive guitarist and songwriter, and with a distinctive, engaging vocal style. With Blues Comin' On he also demonstrates that he’s an excellent ringmaster, making a satisfyingly coherent album out of a range of different guests and songs from a variety of writers.
|Joe Louis Walker - sho' got the blues!|
Pic by Arnie Goodman
But there’s funkiness abroad too, most energetically on ‘The Thang’, a self-penned dance track that promotes “wiggling where you stand”, and is as good an invitation to shake yer booty as I’ve heard in a while. More than that though, it side-slips into Hendrix-land, with some wacko guitar duelling between Walker and Jesse Johnson of The Time, before giving a deep bow in the direction of ‘Still Raining Still Dreaming’. And Bobby Rush’s ‘Bowlegged Woman’ is given a loosely funky blues treatment, as Walker asserts that “We go hand in hand, like a bowlegged woman and a knock-kneed man”, while piercing guitar work comes courtesy of Waddy Wachtel – a denizen of the West Coast who's played with everyone under the sun, co-writing ‘Werewolves Of London’ along the way.
And there’s still room for plenty more. There’s the opener ‘Feed The Poor’ for a start, a co-write with Mick Jagger’s son Gabriel that’s soulful but gritty, with a fuzzy riff that gets more assertive as the song progresses. There’s the semi-acoustic bar-room blues of ‘Old Time Used To Be’, a dance tune for warm summer nights with your baby, with plenty of tootling harp from John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful and stinging slide guitar from the ubiquitous Keb’ Mo’. There’s the simple gospel fun of ‘Lonely Weekends’, and the catchy pop of ‘Seven More Years’, which evokes The Pretenders in their heyday, and features delightful, shimmering lead guitar from Albert Lee, as well as great drumming from Byron Cage.
Walker even gets into garage rock mode with the closing cover of Love’s ‘7 & 7 Is’, all urgency over scattergun drum rhythms, with surf guitar-like injections from Arlen Roth, before downshifting sharply into a blast of harmonica from Charlie Harper of the UK Subs (of all people), and a crunching mid-paced guitar solo.
With 12 tracks that all do more than stand up to scrutiny, Blues Comin' On is sure as hell good value for money. More than that, it reinforces my view that while there may be bigger blues names out there, Joe Louis Walker is one of the very best around. And if you aren’t familiar with him, you need to put that right - now.
Blues Comin' On was released on Cleopatra Blues on 26 June.