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July 2021

Wee Willie Walker
and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra

Not In My Lifetime
Blue Dot Records

Wee Willie Walker

I've been a very big fan of soulful blues singer Wee Willie Walker since we first reviewed his album, Memphisapolis, in August 2006. A few months later I declared it my favorite album for that year. Walker was teamed up with The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra for this album, Not In My Lifetime (Blue Dot Records). Sadly, Mr. Walker passed away just three days after the recording sessions for this album. He will be missed, but he sure left a wonderful legacy for us to enjoy for many years.

What makes this album so special is the diversity of material and the unique sounds we hear throughout. It's just not "cookie cutter" soulful blues. There's an awful lot of good sounds coming out in each song.

After a brief greeting from Walker, he and the band launch into a song written by Christine Vitale, Larry Batiste and Anthony Paule specifically for this album, like was done for nine of the 13 cuts. "Don't Let Me Get In Your Way" has Walker singing energetically with a bit of a playful growl in his voice, and we get our first proof that the band behind Walker is airtight and solid. "Over and Over" is a slow, soulful song with soaring vocals from Walker. Even more interesting is Paule's use of an electric sitar to play the guitar parts. THIS! This type of creativity is what separates this album from the rest.

Perhaps the album's strongest number comes next, "Real Good Lie," with a jazzy Latin beat and Walker packing a wallop into his vocals. I love the background vocals throughout the album, but here Larry Batiste and Sandy Griffith stand out even more. It's snaky, soulful and mysterious. Just award the team of Vitale, Batiste and Paule a Blues Music Award now for best original composition. It would get my vote. Subtle guitar and finger snapping starts out the slow, shuffling soul number, "What Is It We're Not Talking About?," kind of reminding me of the beach music that I used to hear when I lived in the Carolinas.

Walker gives us one of his strongest vocal performances on "Darling Mine," a soul chestnut that starts out with minimal instrumentation before he starts to plead his case, with his voice eventually getting stronger and more emotional as the song progresses. Paule comes in with a tasteful blues guitar solo midway through the song and continuing through the end. It's a killer! The tempo picks up on the song of unification, "I'm Just Like You," with members of the The Sons Of The Soul Revivers joining in on vocals. Especially powerful was James Morgan's stirring voice when he took the lead.

Another song of inspiration follows with the mid-tempo soul tune, "Make Your Own Good News," with the background chorus here sounding similar to the backing singers on the original version of "People Get Ready." There's also a strong sax solo by Charles McNeal that is the icing on the cake. What a nice number! "Warm To Cool To Cold," a Gene Dobbins composition that was first a hit for Jerry Ford in 1965, has a country & western flavor over top of a mid-tempo blues shuffle rhythm.

Just when you think this album can't get any better, the next three cuts rise to another level. "Let The Lady Dance" is a slow, soulful number that tells a story about a woman who has struggled to get over the loss of her man but is now finding comfort again. Walker gives us some of his most evocative singing here. Just try not to get emotional when listening to this song. The mood changes on the blues shuffle, "Heartbreak," first recorded by Jon Thomas in 1960. B.B. King should have done this song, because it sounds like something that would have suited him. The horns are good, especially trumpet player Bill Ortiz.

The 1956 Little Willie John hit, "Suffering With The Blues," is done as a slow blues with tasty guitar from Paule and Walker's voice traveling across multiple octaves. Sublime singing. Session bass player Endre Tarczy gets songwriting credits for the instrumental, "Almost Memphis." It's head-nodding, foot-tapping soul that could have come out of Memphis in the '60s or '70s. Hey, maybe that's why they gave it the name, "Almost Memphis." Tony Lufrano's B3 playing gets plenty of time in the spotlight, while the horns also get to put up that requisite wall of sound.

The Vitale/Batiste/Paule songwriting team contribute one more big-time number to close the album, a mid-tempo blues shuffle, "'Til You've Walked In My Shoes." Another number that certainly would have fit on an older B.B. King album, and that's a compliment. Walker sings defiantly that no one should tell him anything about the blues until they've walked in his shoes. At the end of the song Willie laughs and shouts out, "That was it!" If this is the last song we get to hear from Wee Willie Walker, well, it's a nice way to go out. RIP, Willie.

Everything clicks on this album --- the song selection, diversity in tempo, the sounds coming from the band and the singers --- it all comes together for one of the finer albums of the 2021 blues season. Every song is great. Every single song. Remember the name of this album --- Not In My Lifetime. Thank you, Willie, for all of the great music you gave us in your lifetime.

--- Bill Mitchell



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