Witness to the Blues

by: Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker deserves all the respect he gets, and he gets a lot -- as a singer, a producer, a guitarist in multiple styles, a songwriter, and a harmonica player. But that doesn't prevent his first album for the Stony Plain label from being something of a mixed bag. One of Walker's great strengths is the authority with which he can play several different varieties of blues: his version of "It's a Shame" is a supremely confident, horn-driven Chicago blues exercise, while "Midnight Train" evokes the subtler chug of a John Lee Hooker song. "Lover's Holiday" (a lovely duet with Shemekia Copeland) is New Orleans-style R&B, and "Hustlin'" features some very fine barrelhouse piano by Bruce Katz. And that's just the first four tracks, in order. When Walker falters, it's in the vocal department, and it happens most egregiously on the excruciating "Witness." But elsewhere he's in fine voice, and the album-closing "Sugar Mama" is both one of the program's finest tracks and an exceptionally powerful vocal performance. His guitar playing is always a treat, and the album is solidly recommendable overall. ~ Rick Anderson

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