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October / November 2008

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Joe Louis Walker
Witness To The Blues
Stony Plain Records

Joe Louis Walker

Over the past 20 or so years, Joe Louis Walker has been one of the most prolific, and most versatile, artists playing the blues. Although his roots are in the blues, he’s always managed to incorporate gospel, soul, and jazz into his sound, which is what makes his recordings so compelling. You can always be assured that on most new recordings, Walker is not treading on familiar turf. There’s always something new and interesting to absorb from his new releases, which is also the case with Walker’s latest effort, Witness To The Blues (Stony Plain).

Produced by Duke Robillard, the new disc features a mix of new tunes written by Walker and some interesting cover choices. The cover tunes include the funky J. J. Malone tune, “It’s A Shame,” a reworking of the old Peggy Scott/Jo Jo Benson soul tune, “Lover’s Holiday," which features Shemekia Copeland, and invigorating remakes of the old classics “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” and “Sugar Mama.” Walker has always relied on original tunes for the most part on his releases, but has always shown impeccable taste in cover tunes, relying on either seldom-heard lost treasures or fresh reinterpretations of old chestnuts.

Walker’s original compositions are a diverse set, ranging from the ’50s-era rocker, “Midnight Train,” to the Chicago slow blues sound of “Hustlin’,” a standout track which features an outstanding guitar solo from Walker. “Witness” is a wistful gospel tune and one of many that feature Bruce Katz on keyboards. “Highview” is a mid-tempo instrumental featuring Walker and Robillard trading licks. The pair unplug for the acoustic blues, “I Got What You Need,” which features slide guitar from Walker. “Keep On Believin’” is a smooth soul ballad, while “100% More Man” features some more inspired slide from Walker.

Walker, as always, sounds terrific. Robillard’s production work is first-rate and the backing musicians are outstanding, including Katz on keyboards, Mark Teixeira on drums, Jon Ross on bass, Todd Sharpville on guitar, Doug James on baritone and tenor sax, and Scott Aruda on trumpet.

Witness To The Blues is another in a long line of great Joe Louis Walker releases. Newcomers will love it as much as his longtime fans.

--- Graham Clarke


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