Joe Louis Walker
Great Guitars
Verve 314 537 141-2
The danger of a recording such as Great Guitars -- which features a plethora of notable guest guitarists -- is that the style and musical personality of the "host" artist will be obscured. Joe Louis Walker doesn't let that happen on his album, despite an honor role of featured pickers that includes Little Charlie Baty, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Steve Cropper, Otis Grand, Buddy Guy, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Taj Mahal, Scotty Moore, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Otis Rush and "very special" mystery guest Bonnie Raitt, not to mention support from the Tower of Power Horns and Johnny Nocturne Horns.

How does Walker manage to stay in charge? With one exception (Raitt), none of the guests contributes vocals, and a great many of them (Baty, Brown, Cropper, Moore) add nothing more than a single 12-bar cameo solo. In fact, some of the appearances are almost inconsequential: Lockwood, blues icon that he is, gets a very small backing role.

Thus, the Great Guitars concept falls somewhere between tasteful restraint and mere marketing vehicle, depending on your point of view. The album lives or dies on Walker's merits, not those of any of his guests.

It lives. Walker is a diverse, entertaining player, from the jazzed-up Chuck Berry licks that introduce "Mile-Hi Club" to the slinky slide guitar of "Hop on It" and "High Blood Pressure" to the wah-wah laden blowout of "Cold and Evil Night." Walker's smooth, high-ranging vocals and rhythmic/stylistic versatility have a lot in common with Robert Cray, although Walker's material on Great Guitars stays closer to its blues roots than does most of Cray's work. It's fun, it all fits together nicely, and oh, by the way, about a dozen of the best six-stringers in the business just happen to stop by for a cup of Joe and 12 quick bars. Must be nice.

-- Bryan Powell

This page and all contents are © 1997 by BLUES ACCESS,
Boulder, CO, USA.