Joe Louis Walker

New Direction

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Joe Louis Walker is quite the triple threat. Not only is he a superb blues guitarist, with remarkable fluency and imagination, he's also an excellent singer (as you might expect from someone who came up through gospel groups), and an excellent writer with a strong penchant for soul music. For the most part, his blues isn't the heart-wrenching type, but deals with mistrust and double-dealing ("Messed My Mind Up") and good times ("Custom Cars, Gibson Guitars"). Throughout he blurs the line between blues and soul, which effectively makes this one of the best soul albums in a long time, as he shows on "Do You Love Me" and "You Don't Love Me Girl." With "Soldier for Jesus" his blues mixes with gospel, and some wonderful guitar work. With a small band -- bass, drums keys -- that truly swings, he keeps center stage, which is what he needs. Whether keeping rhythm guitar gliding behind his vocals, or shining as he does on "Mr. G's Boogie," his fretwork is fresh, wonderfully clean, and played with the kind of style and imagination all too often missing these days. Indeed, about the only misstep on the record is "Tempting Me," which talks up how much he's loved by the women when he's on the stage. Maybe it's tongue in cheek, but it also comes across as filler next to the other songs. And the closer, "Lena," tails everything off with a lyrical joy. A superb record from someone who might just be the best contemporary bluesman.

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