Phillip Walker | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Phillip Walker 

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Guitarist Phillip Walker came of age in the 50s on the gulf coast, where young blues artists were tapping the region's diverse heritage to create a propulsive meld of R & B, jump blues, and rock 'n' roll. From 1955 to '59 he worked in Clifton Chenier's touring band, a versatile outfit that also backed artists such as Etta James, Rosco Gordon, and Jimmy Reed. By the early 60s Walker moved to California, where he recorded for local labels like Elko, Gilkey, and AMC. In 1973 the Playboy label issued Bottom of the Top, a compilation of his 45s; when that disc was reissued on Hightone in 1989, it sparked a renewed interest in Walker, and subsequent outings on Rounder and Black Top solidified his reputation as a leading purveyor of the sophisticated yet intense modern southwestern blues style. His most recent recording, this year's Live at Biscuits and Blues (M.C.), showcases his ability to rejuvenate even the most familiar material. On the ballad "90 Proof" his string bends ache with loss even as his shimmering tone suggests hope, while his solo on Ray Sharpe's "Linda Lu" both accentuates the song's lurching shuffle and embellishes it. On Ann Peebles's "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" he makes adultery sound like a harmless prank; and on "Think" (not the Aretha classic but an earlier Jimmy McCracklin tune) he rolls out thick, midregister ululations with laid-back confidence. Hopefully his Big Band will be tighter here than on the M.C. disc, where the horns tend to move in one direction as Walker heads in another. Friday, November 8, 9:30 PM, and Saturday, November 9, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

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