Joe Louis Walker
If 2003 has been designated as the year of the blues, then 2002 was the year of Joe Louis Walker. Walker was one very busy musician in 2002. Typical blues artists release an album every one to two years with few having the creative chutzpah to put out three in 14 months, with each being different from the last.
Joe Louis Walker reaffirms that he is far from typical with Pasa Tiempo (Evidence), an album that presents a completely different side of Walker that has not been heard before. Walker has always had broader musical horizons other than the stone “bluesman” that the media has labeled him with. This outing finds Joe stretching out and exploring his jazzy yearnings mixed with a healthy Latin flavor, crossbred with the blues for a unique sounding record that will withstand the test of time for decades to come.
Produced by Carla Olson and Brian Brinkerhoff, this highly polished chestnut consists of six covers and three effervescent originals, woven together so splendidly that its 44 minutes end in what seems to be the blink of an eye. Interestingly enough, two of the three originals are instrumentals that find Walker in more of a supporting role, letting the elegant ensemble of jazz and R & B players he has assembled step to the forefront.
The title tune is a rolling samba-ish number, featuring the sweet muffed trumpeting of Wallace Roney (whose work throughout the entire project is utterly stunning) that evokes memories of Miles Davis and blended flawlessly here with the classy piano stylings of David Arnay. “Barcelona” is similar in content but curves more to the jazzy side of things, with tenor sax artiste Ernie Watts adding his robust sound alongside Roney’s sleek soloing.
The final original, “You Get What You Give,” has Walker pouring his heart into the vocals and Watts cutting loose with about a million well chosen notes, alongside Wally Snow’s ambient vibe phrasings.
The album’s opening number, a cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing,” initially lulls you with its easy percussive rhythms provided by the learned hands of Master Henry Gibson, before exploding into Walker's gospel-inspired vocals, testifying the lyrics to a fever pitch. Otis Redding’s “Direct Me” follows with a funky Memphis strut, and Joe heating things up and singing along with his smoldering slide. Sweet pungent harmonies permeate Boz Scagg’s “I’ve Got Your Love,” with Julia and Maxine Waters complimenting another powerfully strong vocal performance from Walker.
A vintage John Hiatt tune, ”Love Like Blood,” fits like a glove with its gospel overtones and more of Joe’s impressive slide, augmented by Barry Goldberg’s silky B3 magic wrapping comfortably around it.
Two other instrumental diddies complete this exceptionally crafted recording on more basic blues ground, with Walker picking and sliding his way so finely up and down the fret board for a hot cover of “It Hurts Me Too,” before being joined by grossly-underrated guitarist Phil Upchurch for some blazing licks on the album’s swirling closer, “You Can Sit Down.” Upchurch originally released this piece as a single in 1959.
Joe Louis Walker is one of those artists that makes you feel every note that is played and every syllable that is sung through his amazing ability to convey his emotion for his material to the listener and moving them with it. Walker states in the informative liner notes, if I may be allowed to paraphrase, that he wants to be able to put his records up 20 years from now and have either his sons or some other kids saying "Boy, that’s Joe Louis because it’s so damned different." He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams with Pasa Tiempo.
Joe Louis Walker is indeed different in his approach and execution in everything he tries, as his last six albums will bear witness to. But he has outdone even himself with this one. Lay your hands on this prodigious masterpiece from one of the most scintillating and innovative blues musicians of our time.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
While we’re on the topic of eclectic music, let me just say that, had I heard Joe Louis Walker’s latest album for Evidence Records, Pasa Tiempo, before the Christmas deadline to produce my Top 10 list for best recordings of 2002, I would have included it.
Standing right at the point where blues, jazz and soul meet, this is a rare case where a collaboration between a blues artist and a jazzman works. What was the last one to do it? Maybe James Cotton’s Deep in the Blues, which paired the great harmonica bluesman with monster bassist Charlie Haden. (Joe Louis Walker was the guitarist on that disc).
But Pasa Tiempo, which finds Walker trading solo space with jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney, one of the best of the “new Miles” crop, can also be linked to that orgasmic soundtrack album, The Hot Spot, that found John Lee Hooker trading grooves with Miles Davis.
In any case, this new CD by Joe Louis Walker is a joy. Consider it as a late addition to my Top 10 list. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to listen to it again. And again.
--- Benoît Brière
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Revised: February 17, 2003 - Version 1.01
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