June 13, 2024

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CD review: Joe Louis Walker – Weight of the World – 2023: Video, CD cover

The album comes out February 17th, 2023 on Forty Below Records and is another huge helping of Walker’s high-value playing, singing, and songwriting.

Eric Corne (John Mayall, Walter Trout, Sugaray Rayford) produced the sessions and did a fine job of pulling the best out of the multi-dimensional Walker and a cracking studio band. Walker moves through genres with the grace of a true master and Weight of the World contains inflections of vintage soul, contemporary blues, jazz, funk, rock and roll, and more. His musical might and confidence are the thread that connects all these sounds and songs and everything goes down as intended from beginning to end.

Joe Louis Walker has been building his legend since his first solo album dropped in 1986. He’s a triple-threat musician who can play guitar, sing, and write songs at the highest level. Considered one of his generation’s most important bluesmen, he has recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Ike Turner, Taj Mahal, and Steve Cropper, opened for Muddy Waters and Thelonius Monk, hung out with Hendrix and Freddie King, and lived with Mike Bloomfield. He has won multiple Blues Music Awards, and been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Walker has built a large and loyal following and is one of the leading lights of contemporary roots music.

Walker split the songwriting duties for Weight of the World with producer Eric Corne. The two writers then assembled a barn-burning studio band featuring Scott Milici (keyboards), John Medeiros Jr. (drums), Geoff Murfitt (bass), Eddie Jackson (bongos), Marc Pender (trumpet), David Ralicke (saxophone), Eric Gorfain (violin), Gia Ciambotti (background vocals), and Corne, himself (background vocals, guitar). The end result of getting all this talent into the same room is an album that may just be the best release of Walker’s enviable career.

Walker opens the set with his title cut “Weight Of The World.” The tune has an easy, 70s soul vibe to it that offsets his lyrical concerns about living in these difficult times. Joe’s vocals are immediately emotive and, although the song acknowledges many problems, he still makes you feel like it’s all going to be ok. His gorgeous, clean-toned lead guitar work sparkles as well, cutting tight ideas out of the air. “Is It A Matter Of Time” follows with its own soulful message and inspiring character.

The funky “Count Your Chickens” is a floor-shaker that flexes and struts. Echoes of Jimi and Santana can be detected by careful listening but this is Joe’s show all the way. The band’s pocket is slamming and crisp and Walker’s high-energy distorted lead playing is edgy and bold. He’s a power machine on his instrument and can slug it out with the finest guitarists of any era.

“Root Down” is a boundary-stretching indie/blues hybrid that creates its own cool world. It’s both familiar and non-traditional, which makes it an attention-getter and a whole bunch of fun. Walker is as vibrant as ever and is still clearly growing and evolving.

Other don’t-miss deep cuts include the modern-ish “Bed Of Roses” and the swinging jazz organ groove of “You Got Me Whipped” that closes out the record. All told, Weight of the World is an epic showing for Walker and touches on all of the things he does so well. His songs never get repetitive or feel like meager excuses to play solos. Rather, Joe extracts different energies from each one and shows us countless unique sides of himself. Listen and discover how fresh roots music can be in the right hands.

A unique talent, Joe Louis Walker has never been comfortable restricting himself to one style the music for long, delivering everything from fiery blues-rock to mellow acoustic and everything in between. And he shifts gears frequently on this tasty CD, a highly personal, thought-provoking riff on themes that affect us all.

A six-time Blues Music Award winner with about three dozen albums to his credit, Walker is no stranger to pushing boundaries. While his most recent previous release, Eclectic Electric on Cleopatra, was an excursion in contemporary and soul-blues stylings, this one travels through the emotional wasteland left in our paths after COVID.

It’s a never-boring, silky-smooth package tied with a bow thanks to the 73-year-old San Francisco native’s exceptional guitar skills along with instantly recognizable vocal chops that infuse deep feeling in every measure of every song.

Eric Corne and Joe split writing duties (EC wrote 4, JLW wrote 5 and 1 co-write) on this one, which were captured at The Building in Marlboro, N.Y., not far from JLW’s adopted home in the Hudson River Valley. It was produced by Eric Corne, the mastermind who’s been in the studio with Sugaray Rayford, Walter Trout and John Mayall in recent years. Eric contributed the other tune, shares credit on another and also adds second guitar, percussion and backing vocals.

Walker plays electric, slide and nylon-string guitars throughout and contributes a little harmonica in a lineup that includes Scott Milici on keyboards, Geoff Murfitt on bass, John Medeiros Jr. on drums. They’re augmented by Eddie Jackson on bongos, Eric Gorfain on violin, Mark Pender on trumpet, David Ralicke on sax and Gia Ciambotti does background vocals.

“The Weight of the World,” which opens, is a funky slow-blues shuffle that describes how many of us feel today, living on the other side of the pandemic and finally “adjourned” from isolation. Despite the seeming victory, however, he observes that we’re still burdened with the aftereffects and he wonders whether we’ll learn from our past mistakes or “get in line for the last rotation” and “all burn until we finally adjourn.”

The pace quickens and a horn flourish brightens the open of “Is It a Matter of Time?” It swings atop a heavy two-four beat but expresses exasperation as he wonders if he’ll ever get to enjoy the fruits of he’s been promised in life, finally stating: “Time will tell, I’ve been told. But I don’t know if anybody knows what the future will hold.”

It yields to “Hello, It’s the Blues,” which opens as a quiet ballad with gospel overtones but slowly increases in pace and intensity. A gentle offering that allows the artform to speak its mind, it assures fans that it will always be a source of comfort no matter how tearful and dark the night. Things heat up via “Waking Up the Dead,” which opens with a second-line drumbeat, describes an encounter with the Devil and warns about his tricks, which – if you aren’t careful — will make hopes and dreams slip through your fingers and run down the drain.

The poignant “Don’t Walk Out That Door,” is up next with JLW announcing that if his lady starts packing, he’ll be the one running from their home, and he promises to emulate Daniel in the lion’s den in his efforts to right any wrongs. The funkified “Count Your Chickens” keeps the heat on high as the singer rebuffs an adversary who’s trying to mess with him before giving way “Blue Mirror,” an uptempo rocker that will have you bopping throughout.

“Root Down,” a keyboard- and harp-driven pleaser, finds Joe acknowledging that he’s paying the price for a life lived without planning for the future. It gives way to the stop-time “Bed of Roses,” about a farewell letter discovered under a pillow, before the jazzy closer, “You Got Me Whipped,” announces finally ready to accede to all of his lady’s demands to remain at her side.

One listen to this incisive treatise and you’ll agree with jazz great Herbie Hancock who calls Joe Louis Walker a national treasure. This just might be his best album ever – and that’s saying something!

Joe Louis Walker - Weight of the World. Bleep.

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