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Toby Walker – Shake Shake Mama
Another artist carrying on the traditions of acoustic blues and following in the footsteps of John Hammond, Rory Block and Paul Geremia is Toby Walker. For listeners who derive their pleasures in the sounds of the Delta, Walker’s Shake Shake Mama will be a valuable cd to add to their playlist.
It’s a minimalistic album with wife Carol adding stand-up bass to several of the tracks. On the inner sleeve of the cd jacket, Walker lists the guitars used on all the songs. The make of some of the guitars stretches to the early twentieth century. A perfect choice for capturing sounds that have their seeds in the Delta soil unearthed.
Justice is paid to the old masters ranging from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters. Walker’s slide unleashes a nervous tension and sprays steely fire on strings that sound like they’re pulled taut over a metal garbage can. His attack on Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” can make him the candidate for journeying to the crossroads and striking his own deal with the devil.
It’s the kind of playing that draws rave reviews from folks like Bob Margolin, John Hammond and Jorma Kaukonen. Making appearances at guitar clinics and Blues In The Schools is indicative of a musician who wants to pass the torch to the upcoming generations.
While his vocals are not technically perfect doesn’t matter. Very few players can capture Huddie Ledbetter’s “Midnight Special” with a lightning in a bottle effect. The tune is familiar to fans of Creedance Clearwater Revival. Although the rock band’s rendition is favorable, it’s got nothing on Walker who bathes the song in whiskey with 12-string guitar back-porch jubilee.
Indeed it is a record that more than lives up to the title. There’s the homage to Big Bill Broonzy in the cheerful “Shuffle Rag.” But it’s in Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” that Walker is in his element. Just in this song alone can Toby make folks spill out onto the dance floor. His slide is giddy with drink and it’s the next best thing to a top-down drive on Highway 61.
The CD is almost an hour in length. You’re more than listening to it. It’s receiving an education of where this music came from. Although no original material is found here, you simply won’t care. You’re just more than happy that Walker wraps Hickory Smoke around these tracks.
The idea that Walker used what was probably his entire guitar collection on the songs was a good choice. Collectors of old instruments can study Walker’s technique and find the best sounds which capture the moment.
If you check out Walker’s website, he has a DVD on the HomeSpun Video Series entitled Blues Fingerpicking Freedom. This would be right up the alley of aspiring guitarists who want to forsake playing with a band to concentrate and hone their chops on old school blues which for some is the real American treasure. Walker may make his home in New Jersey. But his traveling down South was the best teaching he could get. Now imparting his knowledge in classrooms across the country, perhaps there’s a youngster so enraptured with the meat and mysticism of the blues, that when they’re all grown up, they’ll take a long or short drive to the Delta. Or convince their parents to take them. And if Mom and Dad are blues fanatics, than their arms won’t be too hard to twist. In this regard, Toby Walker has already done his job.
A few listens to Shake Shake Mama might just make you gas up the car and head into that part of the South where the old ghosts roam..
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.