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Joe Louis Walker: Weight of the World
(Forty Below Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/8/2023)
There are lots of varieties of that great American music form, the blues: acoustic, electric, small groups and large bands with horns, and styles associated with certain cities, like Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans. This week, we have a new release by a versatile veteran blues man who manages to incorporate an impressive number of those blues variations on his new album. It’s Joe Louis Walker, whose new release is called Weight of the World.
Born Louis Joseph Walker in San Francisco in 1949, Walker has had a career that included several collaborations with notable luminaries. In the later 1960s, he was friends and roommate with the late blues-rock guitar great Mike Bloomfield. Walker worked extensively as a guitarist for others, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Mayall. Following the death of Mike Bloomfield, Walker moved away from the blues, enrolling in San Francisco State University, getting degrees in English and music, and turned his attention to Gospel and spiritual music. But in 1985, after performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival, he returned to his blues roots and recorded several albums for High Tone Records. In 1993, Walker appeared in a duet with B.B. King on the latter’s Blues Summit album, doing a song that Walker had written. He was on other collaborative albums, including one called Great Guitars with appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Steve Cropper and others. Along the way, Walker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. His last album was in 2021, Electric Eclectic, focused on the rawer ride of the electric blues.
Weight of the World takes us through a kind of mini-tour of the blues, with Motown and Memphis styles of soul, a jazzy blues, one with acoustic guitar, a track with a New Orleans groove, ballads and boogies. Walker shows his versatility with most of the compositions being originals or collaborations with the album’s producer Eric Corne. And Walker solos in different guitar styles. Throughout the album, the sound is tight and the musicianship is first rate. The band on the album includes Scott Milici on keyboards, with his Hammond organ being prominent in the album’s sound; Geoff Murfitt on bass, and John Medieros, Jr. on drums, with a number of additional players on different tracks.
The album opens with its upbeat, soul influenced title track, Weight of the World, in a classic style. <<>>
A song called Is It a Matter of Time goes for the Motown sound, with some lyrics that consider the state of the world. <<>>
A major contrast to that is the ballad called Hello It’s the Blues which features some strings in the arrangement. <<>> Walker solos on nylon-string acoustic guitar. <<>>
One of the strongest tracks is the New Orleans second-line influenced Waking Up the Dead, with Walker on slide guitar. <<>>
Count Your Chickens turns toward funk for its musical direction with interesting lyrics, and again the result is solid. <<>>
Blue Mirror, a tune in praise of a music venue, channels Chuck Berry in its sound. <<>>
Walker and company head into the figurative musical swamp for the tune Root Down with its strong boogie shuffle beat. <<>> Walker solos on harmonica on this one. <<>>
The album closes with jazzy shuffle called You Got Me Whipped, a kind of clever love song. <<>>
Veteran blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Joe Louis Walker, on his new release Weight of the World, which about his 26th album under his own name, delivers one of his best. The 73 year-old bluesman shows that he is still in top form, and demonstrates his versatility with an album you can listen to end-to-end and get a nice cross-section of blues styles, all nicely played, with a tight band and tasteful arrangements.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B with points deducted for excessive volume compression and Walker’s voice not very cleanly recorded, with noticeable saturation distortion.
Blues is one of those genres in which many performers improve with age. Joe Louis Walker proves that on his new album, showing his skill with the various shades of the blues.
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