With a career that has now spanned a few decades and grown considerably, Joe Louis Walker has become an artist of major proportions. Not comfortable with a conventional approach, Walker crisscrosses genres without question and the outcome of his recordings generally ranges from slashing, straight-ahead blues, to gospel. Clocking it at 53 minutes, "In The Morning" dishes out an interesting array of styles that earmark a catalog brimming with hard work.
Kicking off with "Just About To Lose Your Clown," Walker uses a modern funk groove for a base that allows some greasily distorted guitar to penetrate a track that shows fine use of dynamics and places his pointed vocals well-to-the-fore. The title track is heavily flavored Gospel which starts off positively but gets dragged quickly into a bog with overly-repetitive background vocals that simply mar an otherwise fine offering, but things pick back up for "Joe's Jump," a bristling slice that serves up some solid guitar in short bursts rather than pummeling the listener with a barrage of notes. Jazz leanings spice up "Leave That Girl Alone" where the thick organ rides beneath guitar rich chords, offering plenty of support for a fine vocal that steers aside for "Where Jesus Leads," a self-explanatory song of inspiration, but "Strange Loving" sadly goes over-the-top when Walker pulls out his grating falsetto gyrations for a disappointing third time in six tracks. "Do You Wanna Be With Me?" gets a fitting soul treatment but the songwriting lacks an imaginative edge, something the guitar sports in spades here with its creative and buzzing turnout carrying the track, and while it might seem like nitpicking, the irritating falsetto rears its head again in the Jimmy Reed-like "If This Is Love (I'd Rather Have The Blues)." "2120 South Michigan Avenue" is a careening instrumental shuffle loaded with churning licks and figures and begs the question, why not more of this? The disc closes out with the best saved for last when Walker serves up "Strangers In Our Home," an acoustic Delta offering with potent songwriting and deeply-rooted bottleneck guitar that sears the senses, and while that otherwise nauseating falsetto steps up again, it actually fits the feel and direction of the track proving it wasn't necessary anywhere else on the CD.
The bottom line here is hard to get a good grasp on... while half of it is some delicious eating, there's a half that leaves a less-than-appetizing flavor in its wake. The senseless lyrical repetition in the title track and "Do You Wanna Be With Me?" thwart the proceedings while the overused and over-the-top, high-pitched vocal wheedling take away from a cohesive effort. Joe Louis Walker has easily proven his mettle with a number of fully satisfying releases prior to this, but there are some questions left following "In The Morning," his initial outing on Telarc. Is there too much emphasis being placed on varying the menu? And can he cook up a disc packed with simmering appetizers and full-course items next time around? The common-sense answer to both queries would seem to be yes. For those who prefer Walker planting himself in a blues kitchen and not veering too far, "Guitar Brothers" on JSP Records is a good bet. In the meantime, sleeping on this one and re-evaluating seems like a good idea... in the morning.
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