Joe Louis Walker, James Armstrong | City Winery | Blues, Gospel, and R&B | Chicago Reader
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Joe Louis Walker, James Armstrong All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Recommended Soundboard

When: Sat., March 1, 8 p.m. 2014
Price: $18, $20 for premiere, $22 for VIP
The term “veteran bluesman” often calls to mind a grizzled old-timer recycling ideas that have long since passed into the realm of nostalgia (or worse, “authenticity”). But though 64-year-old guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker has a discography that extends back to the mid-80s—by which time he’d already been a regular on the Bay Area blues and rock scene for more than 20 years—there’s nothing fusty about him. On his new CD, Hornet’s Nest (Alligator), he balances his affection for roots with his forward-looking creativity—often by using his alchemical ingenuity and hell-bent fury to resuscitate ideas that have been lurking around the fringes of “blues” expression for years. On the title tune, Walker invokes blues-rock crunchers such as Leslie West, while his fleetness and dexterity recall his early idols, including T-Bone Walker and B.B. King (his lyrics, unfortunately, betray a somewhat atavistic-sounding machismo). The power ballad “Ride On, Baby” sounds like a Springsteen song, if the Boss were an ur-bluesman; “I’m Gonna Walk Outside” brings contemporary pyrotechnics to vocal and slide-guitar techniques that hark back to Muddy Waters. The secular hymn “Keep the Faith,” elevated by Reese Wynans’s churchy organ, is rich with gospel-quartet harmonies, and Walker’s supple, Al Green-influenced vocals balance fervor and yearning. James Armstrong, an equally inventive and eclectic stylist, opens the show. —David Whiteis

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