By his late 40s, guitarist Joe Louis Walker was too young to be a living legend, too old to be a hot-shot blues prodigy, and too tasteful to squander his music on attention-grabbing gimmicks. Walker tried to bust out of this box by devoting his 1997 album, Great Guitars
, to collaborations with his blues guitar heroes. This, too, could have turned into a backfiring gimmick, but Walker maintains firm control of the recording sessions by writing or cowriting 10 of the 11 songs, by co-producing them all, and by making sure his big, gospel-trained tenor dominates every vocal. In other words, the songs are not adjusted for the sake of the guests; the guests are asked to adjust for the sake of the songs.
Bonnie Raitt echoes Walker's tasty slide guitar from the intro to "Low Down Dirty Blues;" Ike Turner plays herky-jerky funk phrases against Walker's fluid lead on "First Degree;" Taj Mahal and Walker tackle the original blues hymn, "In God's Hands," as an acoustic duo. On Buddy Guy's old hit, "Every Girl I See," Guy himself updates his guitar solo but allows Walker to handle the lead vocal; Matt Murphy, who cowrote that song with Willie Dixon, trades guitar solos with Walker on "Nighttime." Steve Cropper from Booker T and the MG's co-produced 10 of the 11 tracks and joins Walker, Scotty Moore, Little Charlie Baty, and Gatemouth Brown for a parade of guitar solos on "Mile-Hi Club." In this case, the title Great Guitars is no hyperbole. --Geoffrey Himes