The most obvious reason to offer up any kind of award is to recognize outstanding achievement. A byproduct of that recognition is pointing listeners in the direction of great music they might otherwise miss.
Joe Louis Walker is no newcomer to the blues circuit yet I had never heard of him until I saw he was nominated for five Blues Music Awards including Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of The Year for his Between A Rock And The Blues CD, which also features a song nominated for Song of The Year.
That Song of The Year nominee is "I’m Tide," which opens the album. Walker’s vocal is relaxed, evoking Sign O' The Times-era Prince. While his voice may be laid back, his guitar lead is absolutely not. He lays down some mean licks, but it's the tone he generates that provides most of the heat to those leads.
"I'm Tide" is also set apart by having a rhythmic structure of its own. It's still a basic 4/4 time signature, but Walker isn't using the skeletal remains of a blues riff that has been used by every would-be bluesman in every dive bar across the known universe. Walker draws from contemporary and traditional blues elements as well as some sweet blasts of gospel organ. The clever wordplay — this is a song about fatigue rather than my favorite college football team or a popular brand of laundry detergent — gives a fresh coat of paint to lyrical themes that have been worn to death not only in the blues but also pop music as a whole.
"Black Widow Spider" is eerily reminiscent of "The Price You Gotta Pay," a song Keb' Mo wrote for Buddy Guy on his Bring 'Em In CD, on which Guy and Keith Richards collaborated. Aside from the surprising similarity, it’s a good tune with some nice sax work from Doug James. "Big Fine Woman" mixes some funk into the rhythm section while Walker flashes some wah-wah lead.
Among the other highlights are "I’ve Been Down," "Blackjack," and "Hallways."
On "Hallways," things slow down. WIth a run time of more than seven minutes, there is plenty of room to stretch out and Walker does but without hogging all the spotlight for himself. Bruce Katz's piano solo — with lovely organ accents — introduces the long instrumental passage in the song's midsection. Katz plays both chord runs as well as some single-key figures, but brings more of a jazz sensibility than an Otis Spann or Pinetop Perkins blues sound.