Willie Walker has been around the music scene for a long while. His career includes a spell with the Gospel Redemption Harmonizers, and he recorded for the Goldwax label for a brief period. Based in Minneapolis for 40 years, his new self-titled album seems to be aimed at getting the name of Willie Walker back where it belongs, in the higher echelons of soul/blues singers.
The album opens with Robert Cray's "Bad Influence" which rocks along a shade more than the original, and offers an initial insight into Walker's vocal talents. Although he maintains the soul/blues frame on the ensuing "Body and Fender Man," Walker is much more than your normal soul/blues singer.
Walker is much more than a soul/blues singer, however, as he shows on a fine rendition of "One Foot In The Blues" which comes close to Johnny Adams' version. He also does straighter blues stuff ("Spoonful" and "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water") as well as taking on TSOP--Philly Soul--on "I'll Be Around."
Elsewhere Walker tackles a couple of soul classics in the shape of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" with an excerpt from "For Sentimental Reasons," and the Supremes "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The latter is done as a duet with Sue Newton. The best stuff here though is when Walker takes on songs that are more of a balladic nature. "Neither of Us" is very good, but "If Nothing Changes" stands out as the best track on the album. The only original tune--written by keyboard player Bruce Pedalty--it is driven by incessant organ, and some nicely bluesy guitar licks which combine to provide the perfect vehicle for Walker's voice.
The album closes out with what could easily have been a couple of clunkers. Fortunately, the fairly straight reading of Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen" works well, and the closing rendition of the Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes classic, "If You Don't Know Me By Now" is another that comes close to being on a par with the original.
"Willie Walker" is proof positive, that the man can still sing. Soul, blues, cabaret: you name it, Willie Walker can do it, and do it in style. Although the album is musically diverse, it seems like a deliberate ploy, designed to advertise the fact that Willie Walker is still around and sounding as good as ever. Tracks like "If Nothing Changes," suggest that with the right backing--the band on this album do a fine job--and the right songs his next album could be an absolute cracker. In the meantime, "Willie Walker" will do just fine.
You can find out more about Willie Walker and pick up the CD via the Butanes web pages (Walker has been backed by the Butanes in the past, and two of them play on this album): http://www.thebutanes.com/butanes_website_pages/index.html
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