Joe Louis Walker

Witness to the Blues

Since his debut disc 23 years ago, Joe Louis Walker has witnessed a lot of blues, and here, on his 20th album, the 59-year-old guitarist/ singer/songwriter celebrates that legacy. Prior to Cold Is the Night, his 1986 recording on the Oakland-based Hightone label, Walker and his band—originally called The Dictionary of Soul (after an Otis Redding LP)—played Chico a few times and, after the album’s release, continued to build a local fan base during the next 15 years. In fact, Walker’s band was the first to play in Sierra Nevada’s then-uncompleted Big Room in December 1999. Long a major international blues star, Walker is teamed up here with guitarist Duke Robillard (who produced the CD) with great effect. Among the highlights are “I Got What You Need,” an acoustic duet with a “Hip Shake” flavor; “Highview,” an instrumental with solid solos by both men; a duet with Shemekia Copeland on “Lover’s Holiday”; the smoking “Midnight Train” and “100% More Man,” both gritty blues. Lowlights are Walker’s smoke-alarm-style harmonica playing on “Sugar Mama” and his strained vocals on two other songs. The pluses, however, vastly outweigh the minuses. A bonus video program is included.