Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz, and Giles Robson Deliver in Vintage Acoustic ‘Journeys to the Heart of the Blues’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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This is a throwback to vintage blues, played acoustically by three of the genre’s best players.  On Journeys to the Heart of the Blues Grammy-winning guitarist, vocalist and Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker, widely acclaimed pianist Bruce Katz, and British harmonica ace and bandleader Giles Robson get down in a thoroughly traditional acoustic blues session. These are eleven carefully chosen rare and classic blues recorded on a frigid day in Woodstock, New York last winter.

The seeds for this collaboration were planted in December 2016 when Joe Louis Walker first met and jammed with Robson at a festival in the Netherlands. Robson immediately imaged an acoustic album with Walker, probably thinking they’d take a duo format until Walker suggest added the well-respected Katz to the mix. Katz is a multiple BMA nominee and this writer’s guess, after listening to his stunning piano on this disc, is that he finally wins his long deserved, coveted Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year Award for his contribution here.

That’s not to slight the two others in the least. Rarely has Walker sung as soulfully as he does here. Giles has a terrific feel for the blues, blowing his unamplified harp with terrify tone and technique. As Robson says, ‘{This album} celebrates the dynamics, grooves, lyrics and feeling pure, traditional blues. It’s blues played intimately and at a low volume and with the wonderful space that is created when drums and bass are taken out of the equation.”

These eleven tracks include tunes from Sonny Boy Williamson, Blind Willie McTell, Smiley Lewis, Papa Lightfoot, Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes ,Big Maceo and a couple of others. Few, if any, are well-known. Robson and Walker co-penned “G & J Boogie.” According to Walker, a four-time BMA winner and 52-time BMA nominee, “this album is a throwback to the days of less is more. No long guitar solos, no drums or extra instrumentation. Just good honest blues played with heart and soul.”

Even though Walker cites no long solos, there are some splendid passages from each player throughout. For starters listen to Robson mimic the train sounds on the opening Papa Lightfoot’s “Mean Old Train” and blow with abandon on “G & J Boogie”(sans piano).  Catch Walker’s guitar picking on ‘You Got to Run Me Down” and his acoustic slide on “Hard Pill to Swallow.”Katz does a great job of chording and vamping and when he solos it’s mesmerizing as on “Hell Ain’t But a Mile and a Quarter” and his unaccompanied Big Maceo’s “Chicago Breakdown.”

This is as strong an acoustic blues album as you’ll find. It can easily sit alongside the best of Cephas & Wiggins or Buddy Guy and Junior Wells’ classic Alone and Acoustic. Better yet, it has stellar piano in the mix.

This trio will be touring Europe this Fall and plan to tour the U.S. next year.

 

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