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July 2003

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Surprise

Charles Walker
Number By Heart
Zane Records

Charles Walker

What can I say?- Charles Walker's new release, Number By Heart (Zane Records), is a revelation. This is the deep soul CD that Southern soul fans have been waiting for. There are 13 tracks of Stax, Muscle Shoals, Fame Records heaven, horns ablaze with great live musicians and backup singers. This CD was no fluke though, as the intention was for it to be strictly a deep soul release. Walker's last release, Leavin' This Old Town, a 2000 release on Cannonball, was a much heavier blues/rock oriented collection, although the inclusion of the deep soul "Make it Rain" perhaps hinted at things to come.

Quoting the excellent Zane Records liner notes; "The birth of this album began on a rainy day in Oxford (not Mississippi, but England). Nashville producer and guitarist Fred James had contacted us with a view to releasing a new album from Charles Walker. We had seen Charles perform some years earlier at The King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas and we were taken by the fact that we were watching a true soul survivor. When we heard he was touring England we arranged to meet him the morning after his Oxford gig. How do you feel about making a deep soul album Charles, you know, songs with passion and fire with a feel of the classic era when the sounds of Memphis and Muscles Shoals ruled? I like that idea, let's do it, he replied. This certainly would not be new territory for Charles, as in 1964 he had formed "Little Charles and The Sidewinders," a soul band that created a stir on the New York circuit. Why not then, return to his roots with an album that would firmly show the same soul and emotion we witnessed several years ago in Arkansas?"

With the opening track, "Number By Heart," you are transported back to the age of James Carr and Otis Redding, songs that told a story and were performed with emotions previously heard only in church. The second track, "Your Turn To Cry," takes the Joe Simon classic to new heights. "Snake Juice," with its killer horns, is right out of Stax. If you want to hear the epitome of deep soul, give a listen to "Give Me Your Hand." Elvis Costello's "Allison" follows and works OK, but when you think of all the great songs he could have covered, why "Allison?" As this review ends, I am listening to Walker's version of the Percy Sledge hit "It Tears Me Up," sung with such emotion that I don't want this track to end.

This CD, along with the Bettye Lavette release reviewed several issues ago, certainly are two of the finest releases to come along in years. So which one will be this year's best? Wait and see. Remember, there are no ties in baseball and there should be no ties in one's top ten list. Visit Zane's site at www.zanerecords.com, where I think you can order this, or it is available from Amazon UK.

--- Alan Shutro

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