Americana Beat: Seth Walker musical musings hit home

Seth Walker’s 12th album, “I Hope I Know,” comes out May 20, 2022.
Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

The instant Seth Walker begins to play, he sets himself far apart, which is not an easy thing to do in the huge realm of Americana music. I can attest, having witnessed his show last year in a small room in South Carolina. It was a wonderful solo gig at a crucial time for live music, and Walker made me smile, sway, rock, think, and not think. His songs were topical and folksy. He carried them in a clear, nuanced tenor, and underscored them with assorted styles of Southern music on guitar. “I Hope I Know,” his 12th album and third produced by the Wood Brothers’ Jano Rix, follows suit — but with welcome embellishments. 

Seven new songs co-written with either Oliver Wood or Gary Nicholson, plus one each by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Bobby Charles, collectively illuminate every fine aspect of Walker in pensive but optimistic mode. Performed primarily by Walker on guitars and Rix on percussion and keys, the songs are stripped to their cores. Spare horns, backing vocalists, and other flourishes add texture in all the right places. One features his touring quartet, dispensing the emotion live in the studio. Walker describes his writing style as “search and surrender.” These songs seem seeded by living through an America shut down in too many ways. By launching the album with “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be,” he proves himself both reactive and forward thinking. The Hill Country blues beat of the song entrances, and Walker’s guitar notes are as sharp and piercing as his lyrical twists.

Grappling with heartbreak in almost beat poet style, “Why Do I Cry Anymore” also features some Memphis soul in the groove. Consistent deviations in both theme and tempo keeps the listener rapt. “Hope I Know,” inspired by an old Hawaiian poem, promotes forgiveness and reconciliation. Moving to an island lilt, the innocence in it charms like a child skipping stones. “Remember Me” then hits hard, its pained memories of love wafting on old jazz and blues as if from a pungent old New Orleans graveyard. Voodoo blues intensifies in “Satisfy My Mind,” but Charles’ “Tennessee Blues” acts as a respite, Walker using the mountain air nature of it to reflect on his own moves through life. Morrison’s “Warm Love” and Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” also offer points of view that fit the framework, and performances that very simply mesmerize.  

Walker’s previous album, 2019’s “Are You Open,” proved to be prophetically titled. The question he poses with the title “I Hope I Know” should prove equally so. Walker’s first book of personal tales and prose, “Your Van is On Fire,” also comes highly recommended. Fascinating and often humorous glimpses into the life of this wandering artist raised in a North Carolina hillbilly commune emphasize and explain his genius.

-Tom Clarke

  • Seth Walker
  • ‘I Hope I Know’
  • Label: Royal Potato Family
  • Release: May 20, 2022

5/14 – San Angelo, TX – Simply Texas Blues Festival
5/19 – Dallas, TX – The Kessler *
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6/3 – Easton, MD – Stolz Listening Room
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9/4 – Pagosa Springs, CO – Four Corners Folk Festival
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9/29 – Portland, OR – Jack London Revue
9/30-10/2 – Sisters, OR – Sisters Folk Festival
10/13-16 – Live Oak, FL – Suwannee Roots

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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