Joe Louis Walker 

New Direction

Those concerned by the "new" designation in the title of this latest platter by Bay Area-bred blues honcho Joe Louis Walker needn't be -- he's sticking with the electric blues that put him on the map. There're no extended remixes, power ballads, or guest-star duets with pretty young whippersnappers; in point of fact, the milieu for New Direction is lean and clean, with keyboards, bass, and drums the only accompaniment.

The title track is a snaking semi- shuffle/strut with old-school funky undertones, with the right touches of chunky wah-wah'd string-bending and tasty, calorie-loaded Hammond B-3 organ just oozing BBQ flavor. "Messed My Mind Up" is a humorously paranoid ballad featuring a wrenchingly emotional, richly textured, surreal, almost psychedelic sustain-laden guitar solo that wouldn't be out of place on a King Crimson or Phish album. "Soldier for Jesus" stirringly acknowledges Walker's sacred roots (he was a singer in the Spiritual Corinthians gospel group in the mid-'70s) in a strikingly secular fashion, driven by an engaging New Orleans rhythm groove, keening yet slippery slide guitar riffs, and JLW's fervent testifying.

Vocally, Walker sings with a soulful, amiable rasp -- think Buddy Guy, a grittier Robert Cray, or even Bob Seger. Anyone assessing contemporary electric blues as a bunch of three-chord/twelve-bar clichés needs to check out New Direction, this jaded critic's contender for blues disc of the year.

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