Blues Of The Month Club
Verve Records, 1995
REVIEW BY: George Agnos
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/19/1999
I saw blues vocalist/guitarist Joe Louis Walker play live a couple of summers ago. He put on a great show and electrified the crowd with a song called "Bluesifyin'" which he told the crowd he was going to play "the Joe Louis Walker way - slow and hard". He wasn't lyin'; he surely was bluesifyin'!
The recording for this song is on his 1995 release called Blues Of The Month Club, and this studio version is pretty intense as well. "Bluesifyin'" is a tribute to legendary bluesmen of the past such as Muddy Waters and many others that are mentioned by name. I am guessing that the old masters would be proud of Walker for this song.
Unfortunately, very little on Blues Of The Month Club comes close to that kind of intensity. Walker doesn't seem to be even trying to get to that level, as this is pretty much a pop-oriented recording. This CD is Walker's bid for the kind of crossover success that Robert Cray had with his Strong Persuader album. One problem is that Walker is not the charismatic singer that Cray is. The other problem is the songs are not consistently as strong.
Not that there aren't any good moments on Blues Of The Month Club. The title song is very clever, and the cover of Ike Turner's "You've Got To Lose" moves along nicely, enhanced by some nice backup vocals by The Spiritual Corinthians. Walker's performances here are decent, helped out by the strong material.
The very poppy "Lost Heart" proves that he can write a good hook, and even under such lower expectations, the band does provides great instrumental support. Mike Epply's organ solos are a standout, and Walker truly is a gifted guitar player.
But once you get to "Bluesifyin'", then you realize what this CD could have been, and everything that comes afterward is a big letdown. The rest of the CD is mostly forgettable pop-oriented tunes that sound a bit tired. Even a rockabilly track called "Play 'Em Where They Lay" lacks any real spark.
The only time he returns to form is on "Second Street". Not that this is a great song, but it sticks out as a highlight of the second half of the CD. Here Walker plays a mean slide guitar, and he sounds like he is having fun again. Another change of pace tune, "Your Lyin' Eyes", is an unsuccessful attempt at John Lee Hooker's brand of folk blues. Walker lacks the nuances needed to pull off this type of number.
Blues Of The Month Club is certainly a listenable CD but it is also a disappointing one. Walker and his band are too talented to make a terrible recording, but they deserve better material than they get here. Instead of looking for that crossover hit, he should have been playing it "the Joe Louis Walker way".