It is 10 years since Nashville native Charles Walker returned home to get
back into recording. Things were starting to stir once more in the
Nashville soul and rhythm and blues scene, and after a guest spot on Al
Garner and the Roadrunners' "Leavin' Tennessee," Walker cut "I'm Available"
for the European Black Magic Records label (subsequently released in the
USA as "Leavin' This Old Town"), which was nominated for Comeback Album of
the Year. Now with his latest effort, "Number By Heart," commissioned and
released by the UK's Zane Records, it looks like Walker could have hit
The album starts in deep soul mode with the title track. Right from the
off, you can tell that this is going to be something special. All the
elements are there, great vocals, sympathetic band, terrific horns, and all
in perfect harmony. The way that Walker sings "Call the operator" at the
start of the second chorus makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand
up. The quality endures for another slice of deep soul, "Your Time To Cry,"
(aka "Your Turn To Cry"), before the band rock things up on the toetapper
"One Man's Poison," with its highly memorable hook line.
When visiting the UK, Walker teams up British band, Mo' Indigo, who give
him a very sympathetic backing. Band leader, Harry Lang, is also a very
good songwriter, and chips in here with "I Just Want To Love Somebody."
Like all the songs on display, it fits Walker like a glove, making the most
of his vocal skills in the ideal setting (horns, background vocals, great
rhythm section). The tempo is kept restrained for "Love And Tenderness,"
before the horns are unleashed to introduce the stinging "Snake Juice" in a
style reminiscent of "Mr Pitiful", but there the similarities end.
Then it is back to deep soul for "We Got A Secret," and "Ain't Gonna Beg."
Both classics, the former tells a similar tale to "Dark end of the Street."
In order to allow more space for some emotional relief, the band crank it
up once more for "Give Me Your Hand." Some may be surprised to see the
inclusion of Elvis Costello's "Allison" here, but it works well, thanks to
the main man. Walker then tears your heart out once more on "A Fool's
Advice," and the mid-tempo "At The End Of The Day" (penned by Lang and
Sherman Robertson). This particular good thing then comes to an end with
another terrific performance on "It Tears Me Up."
Last year Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up On Me" deservedly picked up
several awards. This year, if there is any justice, Charles Walker's
"Number By Heart" should surpass it. Hats off to Fred James (yet again) for his sterling work as musical support
and producer (notwithstanding his efforts to reinstate Nashville on the R&B music map), and to Peter Thompson
and Zane records. Anyone who thought that the days of the classic soul
album were gone, think again: "Number By Heart" is a GREAT album. Buy, beg,
borrow or steal this album--not literally!--because it is THE album of the
year, beyond any shadow of a doubt.
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