British harmonica ace Giles Robson first hit it off with singer/guitarist Joe Louis Walker at a blues festival in 2016. Supremely soulful in an animated, cracked-gospel voice, and wielding a wicked guitar, Walker has been on a continuous rise in stature since his 1960s salad days in San Francisco.
When it struck Robson — who usually leads a rockin’ hot band — to record a back-to-basics album, he turned to his new friend Walker, because Walker’s so damn real, and has been for so damn long. Walker suggested Bruce Katz to complete the acoustic guitar, harp and piano format they had in mind for what turned out to be this timeless, absolutely glorious blues album.
Katz may be best-known for his memberships in Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters and The Gregg Allman Band, but his resume comprises many more artists and styles. Here he applies his creativity and heart to nothing but extraordinarily beautiful blues piano. For a full minute, alone inside of Roosevelt Sykes’ “Feel Like Blowing My Horn,” Katz plays rolls that are like diamonds cascading from a velvet pouch.
Meanwhile, Walker veritably explodes with energy. In St. Louis Red’s “Hell Ain’t But A Mile And A Quarter,” Katz bounces elegantly, while Walker somberly contemplates an undesirable fate, albeit with a slight wink. Walker feels the blues out loud during every second he sings and plays on this album. It could be his finest hour ever set to tape. In Blind Willie McTell’s “Murderer’s Home,” he wails and practically pulls his fingernails off plucking his strings.
Robson and Katz are right there conversing with him, trying to quiet his mind, it seems. For his part, Robson consistently pumps coal into this nonstop fire. He also paints with his harp as distinct a picture of the sap in Big Maceo’s “Poor Kelly Blues” as Walker does in his urgent voice. That they all click like brothers is apparent right away, as they set off rollicking on Papa Lightfoot’s “Mean Old Train.” Their understanding of blues structure, cut with just the right amount of light abandon, causes the song to sparkle brightly.
That kind of chemistry enlivens everything present, from start to finish. But repertoire makes an impact as well. Equally honest and exciting renditions of songs by Washboard Sam, Son Bonds, St. Louis Red Mike Bailey, Sunnyland Slim, and others, complete the set. Each is as far from the run-of-the-mill as these players and their performances are. Captured clearly, and with plenty of punch, these songs truly are “Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues.”
— Tom Clarke
- ‘Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues’
Walker Katz Robson
Release: Oct. 26, 2018
Label: Alligator Records