I've gotten a little disenchanted with many of the live blues shows I've seen lately. Too many bands are sounding just like the one before them, playing the same blues standards in the same style. Not long ago I left the show of a nationally-known artist after 30 minutes because I was just plain bored. And too few new CD releases have made me want to jump up and shout about them this year.
But then, along comes a live recording by Robert "Bilbo" Walker, an eclectic guitarist / singer who is renowned in both his native Clarksdale, Mississippi and his adopted home of Bakersfield, California.
There's really nothing very original about the song selection on Rock The Night, which was recorded in February 2000 at a little Chicago night spot called the Hideout. But each of the 11 cuts here are given Bilbo's unique raw and raucous treatment. There's nothing dull and mundane about his style.
Backing Walker on this date are his longtime bassist David "Pecan" Porter and legendary Delta drummer Sam Carr. They provide solid accompaniment throughout the disc.
The night kicks off with a passionate version of the Chicago standard "Cut You A Loose," on which Walker shouts his rough-hewn vocals out over the pounding beat of the band and the noise of the enthusiastic crowd.
Walker does some of his nastiest guitar playing on the Jimmy Reed shuffle "Found Love." There's nothing fancy or subtle about Walker's guitar playing. But there's enough power going into and coming out of his instrument to fulfill the energy needs of a small country for a year. For more of the same, check out how he flails away on the guitar on the South Louisiana stomper "Rooster Blues."
The slow blues medley of "Standing At My Window / Don't Answer The Door" is five and a half minutes of sheer intensity that surely had the jammed Hideout crowd swaying to the music in a drunken stupor.
Just when you think you've figured out this cat, Walker turns around and does a way cool version of the country truckin' song "Truck Driving Man." At just over two minutes, this one ends much too soon. You'll think that perhaps Walker is a lost member of Commander Cody's band. The thing is that you can easily imagine Bilbo and the band actually playing at that mythical sleazy roadhouse, a little place called "Hamburger Dan's."
Walker combines his raw blues style with a lot of early rock 'n' roll influences, most specifically that of Chuck Berry. While you've heard songs like "Memphis," "Linda Lu" and "Johnny B. Goode" countless times, these well-worn classics sound fresh coming from Walker. The latter is renamed "Robert U. Goode" for this performance, and paired as part of a medley with another Berry number, "Little Queenie."
One more number from the book of oft-recorded tunes is a shuffling version of "Stagger Lee," featuring a killer guitar solo from Walker.
Rock The Night ends like thousands of night club sets have concluded over the last few decades with a version of the Freddy King instrumental, "Hide Away." But like the audience at the Hideout that February night, you'll walk away thinking you've heard the song for the first time.
Robert "Bilbo" Walker is one of a kind ... and thanks so much for that. In this cookie cutter world, it's nice to have an artist who not just breaks the mold, but takes the effort to smash it into miniscule pieces.
--- Bill Mitchell
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Revised: November 30, 2001 - Version 1.00
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