Joe Louis Walker – Silvertone Blues
Almost without exception, contemporary blues albums arrive wrapped in the sound of the conservatory, or of a beer commercial. In neither case does emotion drive the music, and so one stops hoping for better, stops listening altogether.
Joe Louis Walker is better — the exception — and has been for a decade or more. His is a powerfully moral blues, and if those two words seem uncomfortably linked, it will help to remember that he began as a bluesman, moved to gospel, then returned to blues in the mid-’80s. And so to some extent — though this is a gross oversimplification — he is the heir to Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues.
He has, when he chooses to use it, just the voice for the job. Walker’s opening “Runnin’ From The Devil” growls and shrieks, his voice set simply against a very cleanly plucked acoustic guitar, the words promising — begging, even — he’ll go to church seven days a week if that’s what it takes. “Do The Walkin'” is not the conventional boast of a ladies’ man, but a deeply felt promise to one man’s woman that they may scrap some, but he’ll never be the one to leave. The best song of the set, “Letting Go”, just Walker and James Cotton on harmonica, bids poignant adieu to a failed relationship that neither party will end.
Walker moves comfortably from acoustic to electric blues, plays expressively in a variety of styles, writes well, and has a tremendous voice. Praise god, he’s satisfied.