A ﬁerce brand of blues
By Mike Joyce
Friday, Mar. 23, 2012
A stomping shuffle beat, a riffing Hammond B-3 organ, some wicked guitar distortion and a gritty voice that could light up a gospel tent show or bring down a roadhouse - that's what fuels the title track on Joe Louis Walker's new album, "Hellfire," and there's more blazes to come.
The 62-year-old Grammy winner's music is best appreciated live, where his fervent testifying and tireless showmanship often yank listeners out of their seats. But "Hellfire" is nevertheless one heck of an album. Helmed by producer-drummer Tom Hambridge, who has been working recently with Buddy Guy, the album is a potent reminder that Walker has lost none of his soulfulness or wit.
"Black Girls" is a raspy, Stones-ish tribute to Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Shemekia Copeland and other R&B queens who can "put the soul back up in your song." "Too Drunk to Drive Drunk" toasts Chuck Berry's brand of wordplay while echoing his novelty hit "Too Much Monkey Business." Hank Snow's "Movin' On," the album's capper, vibrantly swerves from country twang to barrelhouse piano to Berry-flavored guitar licks.
Some of Walker's finest moments, however, come when he's all business - on the defiant, pew-shaking "Soldier for Jesus," where he's supported by Elvis Presley's vocal quartet, the Jordanaires, and on the anguished minor blues "I Won't Do That," a compelling showcase for the one-two punch of Walker's voice and guitar. It's a knockout.