Sunday, August 30, 2015

Chicago Blues Guide Album Review: Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest

Hi! This review was originally published in Chicago Blues Guide on March 27, 2014. For all the latest Windy City blues info, be sure to check out their website at

Joe Louis Walker

Hornet’s Nest

Alligator Records

As they approach retirement age, many people start to slow down as they contemplate the end of their careers and the transition to doing anything other than the drudgery of work. But professional musicians actually love their jobs and often continue to ply their trade well into their golden years. Fortunately Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker falls into the latter category! Though he will turn 65 this year, JLW shows no signs of slowing down, and this spring there are dozens of shows and festivals on his tour schedule, with stops everywhere between the west coast of the U.S. and Switzerland.

Walker has been a blues force since he was a 16-year-old kid playing guitar and backing the best of the best on the stages of his hometown, San Francisco. Since then he has played with a dizzying assortment of big names, having shared the spotlight with legends such as Albert King, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. He is well-regarded by his fans and peers, and has picked up four Blues Music Awards as well as appearing on Grammy-winning projects from B.B. King and James Cotton. Blues fans can count themselves lucky that he has recorded 25 of his own albums, including Hornet’s Nest, his most recent release from Chicago’s storied Alligator Records.

JLW provides the vocals and guitars for Hornet’s Nest, which was produced, mixed, and mastered in Nashville by the album’s drummer, Tom Hambridge. Hambridge and Richard Fleming get writing credit for all nine of the new original songs for this project, with Walker co-writing three of them. Joining them in the studio were Reese Wynans on B-3 and piano, Rob McNelley on guitar, and Tommy MacDonald on bass. This is the same team that worked on his Hellfire album a few years ago, and they are a stellar group of musicians that know how to craft a top-shelf record.

The title track is first up on this CD, and “Hornet’s Nest” is a hard-core blues rocker that proves that Walker’s skills have not faded at all. His voice may be weathered but is as strong as ever, and his guitar leads burn as brightly as the sun. This would be a fine album if he recorded 11 more songs just like this one, but Walker and his team did not take the easy route as they explored many of the different genres that JLW has perfected over his career.

Next up is “All I Wanted to Do,” a pop-infused rhythm and blues song that takes advantage of the Muscle Shoals Horn Section (Charlie Rose, Jim Horn and Vinnie Ciesilski) to set the mood for his heartbroken lyrics. His guitar tells the same sad story on ”As the Sun Goes Down,” and his axe takes the spotlight of this more traditional blues tune.

The covers they chose for Hornet’s Nest are diverse and unexpected, and include gems such as the 1967 Rolling Stones song, “Ride On, Baby” and Jesse Stone’s “Don’t Let Go.” Fortunately, Walker left off the harpsichord and marimbas on the Jagger/Richards classic and took it in a more contemporary direction -- it is now a fast-paced pop tune with vocal harmonies galore. “Don’t Let Go” retains the original’s rockabilly feel, but at a considerably slower pace than the Roy Hamilton or Jerry Lee Lewis versions. But it is JLW’s take on Kid Andersen’s “Soul City” that steals the show here. This is a gloriously funky blues explosion that shouts out to the influential music cities of this fine land.

The album comes to an end with “Keep the Faith,” a sweet gospel song that channels Walker’s early 1980s stint with the Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet. This was an important part of his career that has influenced all of his recordings over the past 30 years, and eventually led to him embrace his blues roots once again. It is refreshing to see that he celebrates all parts of his career and is not afraid to use every tool available to him.

It might seem that this many genres would pull the CD in too many directions and make it lose its form, but this not true. Traveling to Nashville to cut this disc was worth the effort as Tom Hambridge has produced records for industry heavyweights such as George Thorogood, James Cotton, and Susan Tedeschi, not to mention two Grammy-award winning albums for Buddy Guy. He can sequence a record well and knows his way around the studio, and his work ensured that Hornet’s Nest would be cut from the same cloth as these other fine projects.

It is inspiring that after almost 50 years in the business, Joe Louis Walker is still writing, recording, and playing a grueling tour schedule. But it is even more impressive that he has not gotten into a rut and that his music is still innovative and pushing the limits of modern blues. Hornet’s Nest proves that he is still pulling all the stops out, and it would be well worth your time to check it out. Remember to peruse his webpage at to find out when he will be playing near you, as his live show is something to behold!

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