Longtime intercontinental friends, Joe Louis Walker from California, and the UK's Otis Grand, step up for this new release on John Stedman's JSP logo, a company known for quantity that sometimes lacks quality. "Guitar Brothers" rides somewhere along the middle ground as far as that discussion goes; it's got flashes of sustained brilliance while a few tracks seem to hold steady ground without raising the bar. Walker's vocals are on target as usual, and both guitarists manage slices of molten flow, and it clocks in at a decent 50-plus minutes. Produced by Walker and Grand, the recording is crisp and well-balanced and Brett Bonner's liner notes are quite informative.
Kicking off with JLW's original, "Snake Bit," a slow and gritty blues, the tandem hit stride quickly as Grand doles out some West Side rhythm from the Magic Sam guide leaving plenty of space for Walker to careen about the frets on his vintage lap steel. "Imitation Ice Cream Blues" works off a jump groove with horns laying a backdrop for the team to throw licks about left and right, and while that may satisfy some, this seems like 'light blues' as the duo is capable of far better. Witness "I Like It This Way," a gem from Danny Kirwan's book while a member of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac; Walker and Grand smolder over the entire five minutes, never stepping on each other, instead working around the seams which allows the guitars to converse in a simmering call-and-answer discussion. Grand's "Better Off Alone" is another slow burner that grinds for over seven minutes laced with serious dynamics and intensity from the guitars plus ferocious vocals from JLW, and while B.B. King's "Friends" gets a fair reading, it's more a vehicle for lick trading, while "I'm Getting Drunk," from Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's book, kicks out plenty of slashing guitar heroics. "Rude Women" seems curiously out-of-place, due in part to the phoned-in horn charts over a 1950's rock 'n' roll groove and Chris Burns' piano solo gets buried under blaring rhythm guitar, but "Regal Blues" picks up the pieces with a sweltering shuffle and solid horns bubbling underneath some fine B.B. King-like fretwork and Walker's belting voice. Otis Grand's instrumental offering, "Bliss Street Blues," works off of a Buddy Guy-Junior Wells 'Ships On The Ocean' groove with George Bisharat's well-placed harp attack and jarring fretwork from Grand, this time minus Walker. The disc closes on Jimmy Reed's "I'm Gonna Love You," with high-end harmonica wheedling as Chris Burns hands in a solid piano solo, this time rising above the rhythmic guitars which oddly steer clear of any soloing.
Otis Grand and Joe Louis Walker are no strangers to blues fans, Walker with a solid armful of discs to his credit, and while Grand's catalog is slightly smaller, his efforts are well-received. "Guitar Brothers" works fine on some levels; the duo handing off greasy, distorted and slashing guitar some moments, while at other times, the choice of material lacks a little direction. Walker's vocals are spot-on and packed with soul, as is his guitar work, and Grand delivers some fine efforts as well, yet following Walker's six-titles-in-seven-years deal with Verve and Grand's lack of commitment from major labels, the consensus was that both would be chomping at the bit to cut loose on all cylinders... and it could be that they were thinking of a slant-six instead of a straight-eight. www.jsprecords.com offers a well-stocked catalog of blues and jazz titles, both retrospectives and new releases by numerous artists.
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