Bay Area guitarist shines on new disc
Reviewed December 2009
Between a Rock and the Blues
By Joe Louis Walker
Stony Plain Records: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Joe Louis Walker is a veteran Bay Area blues guitarist and singer. A former Mike Bloomfield roommate and young blues fast gun who left the scene for a while to get an education, he got back into the blues in 1985 and has been regularly releasing music for over two decades. In the mid '90s, he released a series of well-received discs, including "Blues of the Month Club" in 1995 and its followup, "Great Guitars" with a roster of A-list guest stars. His new one is "Between a Rock and the Blues."
Produced by Duke Robillard, this album is all about Walker's West Coast-meets-Chicago guitar prowess. The material is pleasant blues and boogie numbers (it isn't a rock album, as the title might indicate), mostly originals by Walker and obscure covers. While Walker is a good enough blues singer to fill the songs out, most tracks boil down to vehicles for his fretwork, which unlike many other bluesmen varies considerably in sound and approach from song to song.
Walker blows off the doors with some Buddy Guy-influenced slick riffing on "I'm Tide," then some different, Albert King-style single-note stuff on the swinging "Eyes Like a Cat." His slide work on "If There's a Heaven" is wasted as the tune becomes a heavy blues guitar exercise when guest Kevin Eubanks (of "Jay Leno" fame) knifes through a rapid-fire solo in the last half. "I've Been Down" also pushes a heavy boogie feel, with Walker's crystal-clean lead notes cutting through nicely. The slow blues are well served by "Hallways," but again Walker manages to avoid repeating the licks he has already laid down in other songs. His slide skills show through on "Tell Me Why," which also features a cameo by Robillard, whose style is a lot like Walker's. Another standout track is Ray Charles' "Blackjack," a chance for Walker to shout some expressive blues and pluck some quick and nasty scales. "Big Fine Woman" misfires as someone made the mistake of giving Walker a wah-wah, fuzz tone and Hendrix-Cream style song; the vocal and guitar are fine, but it sounds like the CD player skipped to the next disc by mistake.
"Between a Rock and the Blues" shows Joe Louis Walker's skill as a guitarist of considerable skill. The songs are mostly a pallette for his guitar to paint, but he does so like an experienced master.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.