PHILLIP WALKER'S blues ideology is decidedly less harsh than that of such folks as Son Seals and Albert Collins. On his new album, "I'm Tough (Tough as I Want to Be)," there's less of the anger and resentment of electric urban blues, more of the weariness and hurt evident in older acoustic country blues. Witness earthy songs such as "What Can I Do" and "Go Ahead and Take Her," where Walker laments he's "worn out from holdin' on" and, not to worry, "my feelin's . . . already dead and gone."
Like so many great bluesmen, Walker was raised in Texas, but he's lived in Los Angeles since the late '50s. His playing mixes Gulf Coast rawness with an urban urgency most evident in the guitar-laden "Port Arthur Blues" and in his gutsy readings of three previously unrecorded Lowell Fulson tunes, including the aptly named title track. Horns occasionally spice up the music with an R&B flavor (a recasting of Jimmy McCracklin's minor hit, "Think"), but it's Walker's no-nonsense guitar and smooth, relaxed vocals that power an album that could elevate him from minor cult status to wider recognition. When the veteran closes shop with the melancholy "The Blues and My Guitar," it's as eloquent and universal a statement as B.B. King's "Lucille" is a personal one.