Joe Louis Walker's JLW
has never been in more soulful voice nor has his guitar playing ever been so lean and eloquent. He has chosen his songs wisely--mixing three originals with four excellent contemporary numbers plus four R&B standards revamped as blues tunes--and he has fleshed out eight of the arrangements with either a horn section or a gospel quartet. As a result, Walker's emotionally charged vocals have top-notch material to work with and are supported by the most sympathetic context imaginable.
Walker is a former gospel singer himself, and he brings the full-chested sound of conviction to secular laments such as "Rain on My Window" and "Alone." He opens his own composition, "12-Step Lovin'," with a stinging guitar summary of the melody and then has his guitar comment caustically on every vocal complaint about the addictive qualities of love. The album's best song is Carl Schumacher's "Inner City Man," a slow blues about the trials of modern life in urban America; Walker's robust vocal is echoed in the sustaining harmonies of the Gospel Hummingbirds and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
Walker is joined by duet vocalist Angela Strehli, the Tower of Power Horns and his rocking road band, the Bosstalkers, on a punchy version of "Hold On"; he is accompanied only by his own dobro and James Cotton's harmonica on the rural blues of "Going to Canada." Either way--electric or acoustic, pained or exuberant--Walker is a tremendous singer who can grab hold of both melody and story and squeeze them dry. --Geoffrey Himes