Joe Louis Walker ‘Hornet’s Nest’ (Alligator) 4/5

Joe-Louis-WalkerFor those in search of the raunchier side of the blues that can take in both blues rock and melodic soul-blues in equal measure, then San Franciscan born Joe Louis Walker may just be your musical nirvana. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix as well as Lightnin’ Hopkins, and taught by no less than Freddy King, Fred McDowell and Ike Turner among others, Walker was born into a musical family with a father who performed blues piano and a mother who played B.B. King records. A formative moment in his career came in 1968 when he met up with guitarist Michael Bloomfield and they became lifelong friends with the Chicagoan exerting a strong influence upon Walker’s future musical path. For an entire decade (1975-1985) Walker performed gospel only as part of the Spiritual Corinthians, but branched out into mainstream blues terrain thereafter. The latest album follows on from ‘Hellfire’ (2012) that won the Living Blues critics album of the year and is similarly chock full of different aspects of the blues story. There is for example the gentle down home blues ‘As the sun goes down’ that develops into a mid-tempo burner complete with a Carlos Santana style guitar solo, while a cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Ride on baby’ impresses. Gospel influences are evident on ‘Keep the faith’ and ‘Don’t let go’, both sounding as though they have come straight out of the church. For boogie woogie piano with R & B accompaniment, look no further than ‘Stick a fork in me’ and Memphis funk is evoked on ‘Ramblin’ soul’ with electric blues thrown into the mix. Arguably the strongest guitar solo by the leader comes on the laid back ‘I’m gonna walk outside’. Joe Louis Walker may have been no instant success (though being the house guitarist at the Matrix at an early age was no sign of failure by any measurement), but his gradual yet nonetheless steady progress has stood him in good stead now as a seasoned performer and this album is testimony to that. Tim Stenhouse