Playin' Dirty

by: Joe Louis Walker

Although the contemporary blues genre can often seem predictable, Joe Louis Walker seldom has been. That has made him one of the freshest and most exciting and volatile players on the scene. Those are also the attributes of this 2006 release, recorded in Paris, which twists and turns just when it seems to be settling into a groove. Blues fans who demand consistency probably should explore elsewhere as Walker shifts from the edgy, swamp-laced "Nobody Wanta to Know Ya" (a thin rewrite of the classic "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out") to joyous covers of rock & roll oldies "Barefoot Rock," "I Got Loaded," and Fats Domino's "I'm Ready" (inexplicably titled "Ready and Able"). Walker sounds like he's having a blast, too, especially as he overdubs himself on harmonica and guitar during a slicing slide solo on "Poor Man Plead." He shifts into shuffle style for Elmore James' "Pickin' the Blues," a blazing Freddie King-inspired instrumental. On the slow blues of "Ain't It Nice to Be Loved" he overdubs himself again, this time on piano, then picks up the pace for the jump blues of Rudy Greene's swinging "Juicy Fruit," another track where he lays down multiple guitar parts to impressive effect. The closing jaunty unplugged solo instrumental is the disc's only acoustic offering and shows he's just as accomplished in raw Delta mode. But it's Walker's powerful gospel and soul-infused vocals that make him so unique. He's an underrated singer whose distinctive, soulful voice is the glue holding these songs together. While some might prefer more originals next time out, Walker's covers on Playin' Dirty are loose and vibrant. The result is a blazing set that shows him to be one of the finest and most overlooked artists in contemporary blues. ~ Hal Horowitz

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