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Joe Louis Walker - Witness to the Blues

Joe Louis Walker’s latest release, “Witness to the Blues”, is an all inclusive collection of wonderful songs. Since many blues aficionados have a tendency to put Walker atop the list of modern-day greats, those who are carrying the torch and keeping the music alive, “Witness to the Blues” is certainly assisting in that endeavor. And it’s certainly fitting for Duke Robillard to jump in to lend his producing and guitar playing talents (as well as the rest of his band) to the project, as they both have so much in common.

The fact that both artists record for Stony Plain Records more than likely had a lot to do with making the partnership happen, but fate transpires in many steps sometimes. Although they both share an interest in the music of T Bone Walker, another aspect of common ground is their aptitude for diversity, a trait that also goes back to the great T Bone. The only repetitive aspect about the album is the quality of the music, as well as the fact that it’s all fine blues, except perhaps for “Witness”. Though fine music as well, it’s more of a contemporary ballad than anything in a traditional sense, and it adds nicely to the varied mix.

Duke does a superb job on both electric and acoustic guitar throughout, and his skills as co-producer are evident. Add in drummer Mark Teixeira, keyboardist Bruce Katz, bassist Jon Ross, Doug James and Scott Aruda on horns into the eleven included songs, two-thirds of which were penned by Joe Louis Walker, and it all comes together as a assorted blues collection. Nevertheless, Joe’s vocal sound is what it’s all about, and his Jimmy Reed-like harmonica playing and solid guitar work shine as well. His voice is raw and unrefined, and perfect for the Chicago style intensity that’s prevalent in a lot of the songs.

“It’s A Shame” opens the album. The JJ Malone penned soul tune stresses Walker’s adoration for the music of both James Brown and Otis Redding. The rhythmic interplay of the background horns certainly aids in maximizing its palpable funk feel from start until finish. “Midnight Train” is an interesting gallop into a rockabilly blues area. Both Robillard and Walker convey the notion that they’re more than used to playing this style of music. “Lover’s Holiday” features Shemekia Copeland in a lead vocal duet with Walker. Both shine in the r&b classic, as does Robillard, with solid lead guitar additives in a Steve Cropper groove. “Hustlin’” flows along in a lethargic yet soulful Chicago style, as does “Sugar Mama”, which features British blues guitarist Todd Sharpville. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ is done in an interesting Chicago style as well, yet in more of a 60s Butterfield/Bloomfield manner. “I Got What You Need” is an acoustic blues. Both Walker and Robillard excel in this delta song.

“Witness to the Blues” is a fine collection of blues songs from Joe Louis Walker. The music is genuine, and diversity shines everywhere, keeping it interesting and pleasing throughout. Much of the credit goes to Duke Robillard as well, because nobody keeps busier in the quest to create excellent blues music, on other people’s records as well as on his own. “Witness to the Blues” is yet another success story for both of these fine musicians.

Review by Brian D Holland

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