Joe Louis Walker's latest, Great Guitars (Verve), follows in the same formula as many other big name blues artists who feel compelled to overload their CDs with guest appearances by "big name" artists. This disk is filled to the brim with stars: Bonnie Raitt, Ike Turner, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Steve Cropper, Matt Murphy, Taj Mahal, Robert Junior Lockwood, etc., etc. While I don't think that Great Guitars surpasses Walker's previous albums, all of which have been solid performances, it's still a darn good CD. One of the most entertaining numbers is the swinging "Mile-Hi Club," with solos by Scotty Moore (Elvis' original guitar picker), Little Charlie Baty, Cropper, and Clarence Gatemouth Brown; horn accompaniment is provided by the Johnny Nocturne horns. Both Walker and Raitt play nice slide guitar on the opening cut, "Low Down Dirty Blues." Walker's duet with Taj Mahal is on an original acoustic gospel number, "In God's Hand." This is a nice addition to the catalog of one of our finest contemporary blues artists.
name for me, but one that I think we'll more from in the
blues world, is 13 featuring Lester Butler. Their
new self-titled album on Hightone is excellent, with a
real 1950's Chicago sound to the music. The spirit of
Howlin' Wolf lives on in this contemporary band from Los
Angeles. Butler is not a great singer, but his voice
carries the right emotional feel. And he's a better than
average harmonica player. Also making a return to the
recording business is guitarist Alex Schultz, formerly
with Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. 13's version of
"Close To You" has a real low fidelity fuzz,
like listening to an old 45; that's refreshing in these
days of crystal clear CD sound. Schultz gets to star on
the original "Way Down South." Mr. Butler also
has a real dark side, as heard on the frantic song
"I'm Into Homicide"; check out his maniacal
laughter which sounds a lot like the best from Screamin'
is one of those blues artists who is hard to categorize.
The best description that I can give for his music is
Mississippi Delta jook joint blues with a heavy dose of
uptown Los Angeles swing. Wilson's latest release, The
Man From Mars (Bullseye Blues), is another fine
collection of eclectic, electric blues. On several songs
he sounds just like Howlin' Wolf; in fact, he covers two
Wolf originals. Then Wilson turns around and takes the
listener on a trip through the universe on the album's
title cut, playing some real "out of this
world" guitar. The highlight here is the powerful
slow "Doctor Blues." This is the best of
Wilson's three Bullseye albums.
Rounder Records has picked the cream of the
crop from one of their most prolific blues artists, Rory
Block, selecting 22 of her best country blues numbers
from five different albums. Gone Woman Blues: The
Country Blues Collection draws most heavily from the
1995 CD When A Woman Gets The Blues, picking 13 of
that disk's 14 cuts. Especially nice is her version of
Skip James' "Be Ready When He Comes," an a
cappella duet with her son Jordan. I also like her
original "Gone Woman Blues," released on last
year's Tornado CD.
is a New Orleans legend, and it's always nice to have any
new recordings. Her new disk, The Story Of My Life (Rounder),
is a great collection of 11 blues and ballads by Ms.
Thomas. To provide a fresher sound, producer Scott
Billington enlisted the services of veteran soul
composers Dan Penn and Carson Whitsett, who contributed
three new songs. Added to the mix are some of New Orleans
finest session musicians, including bassist George
Porter, Stax Records guitarist Michael Toles, and a
fantastic version of Aretha's "Dr. Feelgood."
Needless to say, this one's a keeper!
My graduation from high school
was celebrated with the purchase of a new baseball glove.
Monster Mike Welch marked his commencement with
the release of his second CD for Tone-Cool Records, Axe
To Grind. At the age of 17, this kid's moving up the
blues ladder real fast. Offstage he's still got a
"Jerry Mathers gee whiz" look, but onstage
Welch is all business. Since his first album one year
ago, Welch's voice has matured into kind of a Stevie Ray
Vaughan growl. At the same time, he's developed a
deftness of touch in his guitar playing. Check out the
slow blues tunes "My Emptiness" and "Axe
To Grind" for some tasty guitar work. "Time
Stands Still" is another good one.
Southern Style (Watermelon Records) is the latest by Texas-based Omar & the Howlers, a solid blues trio most noted for the raspy vocals of leader Kent "Omar" Dykes. I haven't liked all of the previous releases by this group, but this one's good. One of the better cuts is Omar's version of the Kinsey Report's slow blues "Full Moon On Main Street." The other topnotch song is also a slow one, "Angel Blues," on which Omar sings like Howlin' Wolf and plays guitar like B.B. King.
Discovering The Blues (Avenue Jazz) captures a young Robben Ford in two 1972 live performances. Ford was already well known for his exemplary guitar work, and his playing here on "Sweet Sixteen" and "Blue & Lonesome" is very good. However, I have several complaints about these recordings. While sound quality is good, the electric piano is usually up too high in the mix. Keep in mind though that I don't care for the sound of an electric piano; I guess I heard too many bad hotel lounge bands in the 70s. Second, the songs are all too long, as the solos get repetitive after awhile. Still, this disk is a good look at the evolving style of Mr. Ford.
If John Mayall is considered the "father of the British blues movement," then Long John Baldry should be the grandfather. His blues career began in the 1950s, and his groups backed artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, and others on their early European tours. Rod Stewart, Elton John and Mick Jagger all were a part of Baldry's band early in their careers. Now a resident of Vancouver, Long John is still active in the Canadian music scene. His latest, Right To Sing The Blues (Stony Plain), is a real mixed bag of different styles. It works best on the jump blues numbers like "They Raided The Joint" and "I'm Shakin'," as Baldry still has that unmistakable "boogie man" voice. Less successful are his attempts at doing country music; you should skip past those cuts. The CD is worth it though just for the 23 minute interview at the end of the disk.
Artie "Blues Boy" White's latest album, Home Tonight (Waldoxy) follows the same formula as his many previous releases: good quality soulful blues. White is a strong singer in the style of a younger Bobby Bland. The best number is the slow, gospel-influenced song "One Step From The Blues."
"Bilbo" Walker has long been a mystery man
around the Mississippi Delta, dropping in occasionally
from his current home in Bakersfield, California to play
a house party or grocery store gig. He's sometimes known
as Chuck Berry Jr., but that doesn't begin to cover the
various influences heard in Walker's music. This is great
raw, rhythmic blues, with equal parts of Sam Cooke, B.B.
King, Magic Sam and Muddy Waters thrown in for good
measure. My favorite cut on Promised Land (Rooster
Blues) is Walker's version of "Got My Mojo
Working," with a long instrumental lead-in. There's
even a bit of country music here, with a medley of
"The Wild Side Of Life" and "It Wasn't God
Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Too cool!
--- Bill Mitchell
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