Joe Louis Walker Kicks the Hornet’s Nest

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Mar 042014
 

Joe Louis Walker has been guitar slinging for more than 30 years and could easily rest on his six string laurels but instead remains one of the most prolific song writing, blues guitarists around. You can’t listen to just one of Walkers albums and understand him the way you can so many traveling blues guitarists. Walker continues to grow lyrically and artistically while still highlighting the lightning in his fingers.

Many blues people get a reputation for impressive guitar playing but never really grow beyond that.joehornetsnest Their albums all sound the same and you go to their shows to see the solos. Walker never fell into that trap and Hornet’s Nest is his best album yet, one listen and you know he is as in love with that guitar as the day he picked it up, he is still experimenting and pushing himself.

Walker records for my favorite blues label, Alligator, and on this album, he worked with talented producer, musician, and songwriter Tom Hambridge, who spend time in the studio with other Alligator stalwarts, Buddy Guy and James Cotton.  Walker doesn’t settle into one style on this album, he strokes the strings tenderly on ‘Love Enough’ and heats them up with the blinding speed of the solo on the album’s title track.

The second song on the album, ‘All I Wanted to Do’ continues the power chord drive of ‘Hornet’s Nest’ but does it with a stylistic change towards a slightly more pop feel. Walkers vocals keep it planted firmly in the blues and anchor the music through the entire album.  ‘As The Sun Goes Down’ drags you deep into the swamps where his voice mingles with the guitar to create a vision so realistic you can smell the Spanish moss.

I feel the funk bopping in during ‘Soul City’ and the call to god in the gospel groove of ‘Keep the Faith’. This album shines from end to end and it seems to me that Walker has enough lightning in his pocket to propel decades more worth of albums.

Hornet’s Nest is well recorded and the backing band remains tight. I reviewed the CD release and was disheartened to find a lack of vinyl, at least for now. The CD sounds great and never feels overly digital or fatiguing. The music just sweeps you up and carries you to the end.

I highly recommend Hornet’s Nest and if you get the chance to see Walker live, don’t pass it up.

Black Joe Lewis Wants to Party on Electric Slave

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Aug 282013
 

To hear Black Joe Lewis recorded is to strap yourself into an emotion fueled ride through his own brand of blues. To fully appreciate Lewis, however, you have to see him live, where the energy of both Lewis and his band, once known as The Honeybears, power the show on raw emotion. Whatever surrounds their live shows is completely lost to those on stage as they pour every ounce of themselves into the music, and the happiness of doing so shows on their faces.

bjlElectric Slave is slightly more polished than Lewis’ previous recordings. It maintains what seems to be a low-tech approach to creating and recording music. It feels organic, as if every song is simply the breath Lewis exhales. It is easy to see the band sitting around as ‘Come to My Party’ solidified thanks to an abundance of party supplies.

The real magic of Electric Slave isn’t so much what it is, as what it is not. It isn’t The Black Keys or Jack White, it is solidly Black Joe Lewis, a sound and energy all its own. While so many bands feel the need to emulate those with more success, Lewis maintains something that is his and his alone. He has a sound driven by his overwhelming desire to make the music he loves. Black Joe Lewis gives everything he has on every song as if he is willing himself to something greater all the time.

Lewis’ guitar playing is cleaner than past recordings, more sure and polished. The band as always remains solid and packed with fun. You have no idea how much fun until you see them live, which reveals just how much they love what they do.

Electric Slave is not just another Black Joe Lewis album; it is the next step forward. Nevertheless, make no mistake, it holds every bit of screaming guitar, wailing horns, and straining vocals that his fans love. Skulldiggin, Come to My Party, and Dar es Salaam are the stand-out tracks, but there isn’t a weak or ill-fitting song on the album.

‘Gatemouth’ Brown, The San Antonio Ballbuster

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Aug 192013
 

It wasn’t easy deciding which of the great bluesmen I should write about first for this new series. I could go way back and dig through some of the whorehouse blues I love, or I could core out the father of modern blues and write about Robert Johnson. Hell, I could write about dozens of men and women who earned my respect but it was a conversation with my father that made me decide on someone I initially hadn’t considered. Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown earned his stripes a hundred times over and he finds his way onto my turntable more than most, still, it was something more personal that pushed him to the front of the line.

It was a crazy hot day at the ACL Festival in 2004. I was dripping wet from sweat and looked forward to watching an act under the single covered stage area. I was even more excited knowing that Clarence Gatemouth Brown was the act.gatemouth Brown moved slower than in the past, but his fingers were as nimble as ever. He flew around the fret board, his fingers and mind oblivious to his age. This would be the last time I saw Gatemouth, he passed a year later, leaving an expansive hole in the blues world.

Several years later, I gave my father an old touchscreen music server system. An outdated computer loaded with blues and jazz along with an inexpensive receiver I had in the attic. Somewhere during this process, I mentioned seeing Browns last Austin show, to which my father told me he used to go see Gatemouth play live way back in the 70s. Even more shocking to me was that Gatemouth played the Holiday Inn in Cody Wyoming, where I grew up.

My father had never really discussed music, I had no idea he had a passion for jazz and the blues. This was why I chose Brown for my first article in the series; his idea of the blues is as shocking as finding out your dad is a closet blues fan.

Clarence Gatemouth Brown was a proficient artist with likely more recordings lost to time than he has ever been credited with. This Louisiana born master of every instrument he picked up came to fame in Texas, where he was raised. I would love to pick out one album and say “this is the defining record” but like many of these old musicians, the records don’t necessarily reflect a single effort or even a single period in their career.

I find it difficult to pinpoint the height of his career or his skills. He is masterful from his first recording to his last. What sets Gatemouth apart from his fellow bluesmen is his willingness to bring in heavy jazz and country influences. I can think of no other blues artist that made regular use of a jazz flute. He helped create rock music as we know it, he could wail on a guitar like the devil and still play every note as cleanly as any guitarist I have heard.

Brown rarely played a song the same way twice, choosing to continue exploring the potential within. The must own Clarence Gatemouth Brown albums in my opinion start with San Antonio Ballbuster, a collection of influential songs that range from predating rock –n- roll to early 60s guitar jive. Browns wit shines throughout this album.

Back to Bogalusa along with American Music, Texas Style, and Timeless are all three later works that stand out for both their playing and songwriting. With dozens of additional recordings to choose from, all of them worth owning, these are simply a good place to start. Clarence Gatemouth Brown made music and toured longer than even the Rolling Stones. That says a lot about who he was and why he deserves to open this series. Now I’m going to drop the needle on some blues and give my dad a call.

Who would you like to see me cover in this series?

Jan 142013
 

Chicago has always been an important part of blues history. It is where people first began to buy blues recordings in significant numbers. The demand sent every man with a microphone into the fields of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas recording any and all musicians they could find. Often the recording took place right in the field while men picked cotton, hoed rows, or cut hay to the rhythm being recorded.

calvinCalvin Conway recently released an EP titled By Rail which is the product of a personal journey that in many ways mimicked the trip from Chicago to Texas so many men looking for blues gold followed early in the 20th century. It seems this period of reflection and discovery so moved Calvin that he wrote and recorded By Rail while the memories were still at the front of his mind.

Living in Austin I can certainly understand how immersing yourself in the music of Texas would get the creative juices flowing. Calvin is a talented harp player with songwriting skills and a laid back, easy blues voice. All four songs on By Rail are upbeat, easy songs that sound much like I suspect his journey felt like most of the time.

Calvin discusses his trip on his website, calvinconway.com and he was in Texas during the drought, heat, and fires of recent years. This has influenced a darker blues sound that he says will be available on a later release.

Calvin also talks about his love of tube equipment in his recording process and it is evident even on the MP3 recordings, the only version I could find. While the EP is immersive and well recorded I can only wonder how much of his care is lost in the compression process. I found the dynamics to be exceptional for an MP3, another sign of care throughout the process, but I can’t shake the feeling that on my main system at least, some of the detail was missing.

All in all this is one heck of a start for Calvin and I look forward to his next release. I am also selfishly hoping for an Austin tour date one of these days. Do yourself a favor and drop a few bucks for a man who pays attention to the details in both his writing and his recording. By Rail will put a quick smile on your face and set your toes to tapping.

Voo Davis and A Place for Secrets

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Nov 072012
 

No matter how amazing your talent, how many stages you stand on each year, how many miles pass beneath your feet, blues is highly unlikely to make you a household name. The current field of musicians crisscrossing the country today may be the best ever.  That will, with a little luck, put dinner on the table and gas in the tank but probably not much more for the men and women of the blues.

One such musician is Brian ‘Voo’ Davis, A Chicago bluesman with a talent for every instrument he picks up. It is his guitar work that truly stands out as extraordinary however. Voo has the personal tragedy in his past to merit more than simply sounding like the blues, he understands them deep in his soul and you can hear it in every note.

I had heard of Voo on and off but there are simply too many musicians to keep up with. It wasn’t until recently that I downloaded his album, A Place for Secrets from Amazon. Yes, I used the words downloaded and Amazon in the same sentence. Unfortunately Voo doesn’t have a CD or Flac available yet, MP3 is your only option. I was not deterred however and for several days Voo has been my constant companion.

Voo plays most of the instruments himself on this album with a little help from his producer Steve Bores. Davis’ opens with Told Her, a well written song that showcases his abilities beyond the stringed instruments. He takes this up a notch on Home Again, a slow jam ballad that Voo pumps full of emotion. He wails back to life with Levee & Le Bon Temps Roule, a slide guitar extravaganza. The scream of Cherokee Chant brings Davis’ string work into focus and leaves you wanting more.

There isn’t a moment on A Place for Secrets that loses the flow or feels out of place. It shines the spotlight on a budding talent who is so much more than a screaming guitar. I look forward to seeing him live when he stops by Austin and will be keeping him in heavy rotation on Turntable.fm. Give Voo Davis a listen and let me know what you think.

To learn more about Voo check out his website or Facebook page.

If Voo Davis offered his music on CD, Vinyl, or Flac along with MP3, which would you purchase?