Joe Louis Walker: Pasa Tiempo

Chip O'Brien

Joe Louis Walker

Pasa Tiempo

Label: Evidence

On Pasa Tiempo, Joe Louis Walker's third of four releases in little more than a year, Walker has gathered together some of jazz and rock's finest: Barry Goldberg on Hammond B3, Bob Hurst on bass, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Leon Ndugu Chancler on drums, and Master Henry Gibson on percussion. The players are seasoned, and so are many of the songs. The result is a good solid album, which doesn't quite fall under the blues label, or any other label for that matter. Walker explores blues, jazz, Latin jazz, rock, added a heavy dose of gospel to the mix, and somehow made it work.

Walker's career began in the late '60s when rooming with the legendary blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, who turned him on to various guitarists of the time. Walker has played with Steve Miller, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead. He has opened for blues greats Freddie King and Muddy Waters. By the mid-'70s, however, fast living caught up with Walker. He took some time out to get his life back on track and wound up singing gospel music. It wasn't until the mid-'80s that he heard the call to return to the blues once more. He formed his band, the Bosstalkers, and, in 1986, released an album titled Cold is the Night.

For Pasa Tiempo, Walker has borrowed from some of the greatest songwriters of our time. The opening track, "Sweet Thing", is a Van Morrison tune, and begins moodily and soulfully with Barry Goldberg's Hammond B3 pads and Wallace Roney's trumpet soaring high above. Percussionist, Master Henry Gibson, adds a Latin touch that persists throughout the album. Finally, Walker enters with his vocal, so soulful that one imagines Van Morrison moved to tears over a pint somewhere on the Emerald Isle. Roney's tendency to overplay, to weave chromatic, jazzy lines in and out of the fabric of this tune is unfortunate. If there is a problem with this album, that is it.

The follow up track, "Direct Me", penned by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, is a funky two-chord vamp that Walker and band mates serve up with relish. Walker plays a raw and spirited bottleneck guitar solo, which, if one ignores the trumpet vying for sonic space, is quite satisfying. It is quite apparent at this point that Roney is not to blame; the error falls squarely on the shoulders of the producers. It is almost as if they don't have enough faith in Walker's playing to keep the listener's interest, so they just keep adding trumpet.

Two other covers on Pasa Tiempo worth noting are Boz Scaggs' "I've Got Your Love", a groovy tune on which Walker plays a Hendrix-like chord solo à la "Wind Cries Mary", and John Hiatt's "Love Like Blood". Walker's performance of the Hiatt tune is as convincing as his version of Morrison's "Sweet Thing".

There are three instrumentals on the album, two written by Walker. Both are Latin tinged and fall under the contemporary jazz heading. On "Barcelona", as well as the title track, Walker takes a back seat and lets the musicians he has gathered for this session strut their stuff. Roney's jazzy style, for which he is known, fits snugly and appropriately on both compositions. However, it is the saxophone of Ernie Watts, of Rolling Stones fame, which actually takes the improvisational intensity of the album to the next level, particularly on "Pasa Tiempo". The third instrumental is a 3am rendition of the blues standard "It Hurts Me Too", featuring Walker's slide guitar playing and the Hammond B3 chops of Barry Goldberg.

Walker's most heartfelt original on the CD is "You Get What You Give", a bluesy tune in a minor key. One detects strains of the gospel music Walker spent a large portion of his adult years performing. Again, it is the saxophone of Ernie Watts that turns this song into something special.

The breadth of Walker's experience and years informs the music of Pasa Tiempo to a great degree, as does the professionalism and talent of the players gathered here. Placing such a smattering of styles on one album is, for marketing purposes, quite risky. But Walker has somehow managed to pull it off.

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