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Music Review: Joe Louis Walker – Witness To The Blues

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At times, Walker’s voice and style remind me of Curtis Mayfield, while at other times he reminds me of Phillipé Wynne of the Spinners, both of whom have passed. His voice is unique, but his phrasings and the nuances of his voices, since he has more than one in which he sings, remind me of several different people.

While this is obviously a blues album, there’s no doubt of Walker’s soulful moans and cries adding a marked taste of soul in this mix. He’s also a multiple blues award winner, and has recorded with the current monarchs of blues, such as Blues Boy aka BB King, Taj Mahal, James Cotton, and Steve Cropper.

Cut five, “Witness,” is a rousing soul-blues-gospel number that, as the chorus says, will “raise up” even the dead. Cut six, “Rollin’ & Tumblin’,” has no similarities to the more popular version. It’s a juke joint special, worthy of the grittiest, low-downest juke joint around. A little over halfway through it becomes an out-and-out rockin’ blues that makes the walls heave. Walker can make his guitar walk and talk, cry and moan, so convincingly that you’d swear he had an accompanist. The ninth song on this disc is “Keep On Believin’,” an obvious soul-gospel groove, is a rousing number which should have everyone listening in a finger-poppin’, head-noddin’ call to everybody. Number 10, “100% More Man,” is a gutbucket, bluesy, heartwrenching blues paean to love.

Number 11, “Sugar Mama,” is a slow shuffle that will give you an overwhelming desire for sugar, and it’s also the far-too-soon end of this musical journey.

Shemekia Copeland on track three, “Lover’s Holiday,” whose coronation as the reigning queen of the blues I seem to have missed, only adds cachet to this CD. As much a stellar addition as she is, Walker could do the entire album solo and still sound great. Shemekia’s accompaniment on this track is the icing on the cake.

Another of the blues hierarchy connected to this release is producer Duke Robillard, who seems to be turning up all over lately. A very busy man. Just in the past month I’ve reviewed three CDs with his name somewhere in the credits. Others chipping in on this fine record include Bruce Katz on keys, Mark Teixeira on drums and percussion, Duke Robillard on guitar through five cuts, and several others making spot appearances.

Walker has run the psychedelic rock road, the blues road, and the gospel road before returning to blues, and you can discern the tricks he’s picked up in each of those incarnations. While his 10-year absence from the blues circuit still shows some effects on his current popularity, he’s considered a stalwart of the genre and is winning new fans daily.

If you appreciate some gospel, some funk, some rock, and even a little psychedelic in your music, you’ll be at home with this fine album. Put this one in your creel, as it’s a sure-thing keeper.

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About Lou Novacheck