Review: Joe Louis Walker – Hellfire

Posted on: Saturday, Feb 18, 2012

4945rgb.jpg(Alligator Records – ALCD4945)

Alligator Records of Chicago launch their 41st year with a most impressive debut for them from San Francisco-born Joe Louis Walker . . . a triple threat on guitar, vocals and impressive songwriting . . . this is his 24th album since his recording bow way back in 1986 on Hightone, when he released “Cold Is The Night”.

Walker embraced the varied San Francisco scene of the late 60s and into the 70s, backing blues acts as they came through town, and working extensively at the famed Fillmore West . . . such luminaries as Fred McDowell, Ike Turner, Albert and Freddy King and more shared their musical know-how and more with him. He spent 10 years from 1975-85 playing gospel music as part of The Spiritual Corinthians, and during this period also gained two degrees at San Francisco State University.

After turning full-time to the blues he has toured the world, gained 43 award nominations, and as well as his own extensive back-catalogue, has appeared on countless other albums as a guest, including the likes of BB King and James Cotton. “Hellfire” is produced by the in-demand Tom Hambridge, who was at the controls for the Grammy-winning “Skin Deep” and “Living Proof” releases from Buddy Guy.

The opening title cut, “Hellfire”, is a treat . . . a funky groove embellished by the great Reese Wynans on keyboards, a deep and soulful vocal and some demonic guitar from Joe Louis Walker, with snarling solo. The pace is taken down for the slow, and impassioned blues of “I Won’t Do That”, co-written by producer Hambridge and Richard Fleming, with more fiery and fluid guitar leads. “Ride All Night” recalls classic rocking Rolling Stones, with its ‘Keef’ like riff . . . Walker’s vocal aided by Wendy Moten on back-ups.

The blues shuffle of “I’m On To You” sees Walker showing off his harmonica skills, which complement some more smooth guitar work . . . . he then shows off his gospel roots on the superb “Solider For Jesus”, with some silky slide guitar and backing vocals from The Jordanaires. His own “I Know Why” is a beautiful ballad that perfectly highlights the soulful aspect of his voice.

He and the band rock out on the cautionary tale of “Too Drunk To Drive Drunk” . . great playing from all here with more guitar fireworks from Walker and some absolutely stonking piano from Reese Wynans, and the three-man horn section of Matt White (trumpet), Roy Agee (trombone) and Max Abrams (saxophone). Walker’s “Don’t Cry” is another dip into soulful and gospel grooves, with The Jordanaires on hand to help out again. The only cover on the album closes proceedings here, a lively romp through Hank Snow’s “Movin’ On” . . . a great end to a most enjoyable release.

Apart from Joe Louis Walker and Reese Wynans, the core band features producer Tom Hambridge (drums and percussion), Rob McNelley (guitar) and Tommy McDonald (bass).


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