I once stepped on a hornet’s nest. The sensations that followed were immediate and intense.
The album,“Hornet’s Nest,” released this week by Joe Louis Walker, also is controlled burn, visceral in a most-pleasing musical vein. Moreover, it’s believable, and veracity is what makes the blues the greatest form of music.
Walker dedicated the album to some legends who recently stepped offstage for a final time: Michael Burks, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Magic Slim and George Duke. Walker, 64, whose long career has surged in recent years, is among an esteemed and revered cadre of living greats. The Blues Foundation inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
He is rooted in the blues-based rock of his Bay Area environment. He reached adulthood during the heyday of the Fillmore West and was friends with Steve Miller, Santana, members of Jefferson Airplane, and he was a roommate of Mike Bloomfield, perhaps his second greatest influence.
God would be No. 1. From 1975 to ’85 as a member of the Spiritual Corinthians, Walker exclusively played gospel.
He had 23 albums before signing with Alligator Records in 2012 and collaborating with Nashville producer Tom Hambridge on “Hellfire,” which was a fiery-rocker underlined in Walker’s passionate Christianity. The record received the Living Blues Critic’s Award for Blues Album of the Year. (Hambridge was the brilliance behind Buddy Guy’s 2008 “Skin Deep” and 2010’s “Living Proof.”)
It felt like Walker had reached the pinnacle with “Hellfire,” but he and Hambridge did it again with “Hornet’s Nest.” It’s hard to say which is better, but I’ll go with the more secular “Hornet’s Nest,” which is certainly intense but not with the non-stop urgency of “Hellfire.”
Walker touches on his many interests on his new record. Highlights include in the psychedelic “Not in Kansas Anymore,” a Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones cover, “Ride On, Baby,” the playful and clever blues “Stick A Fork In Me,” an obligatory gospel “Keep the Faith,” and my favorite, a stripped down slide-guitar blues, “Love Enough.”
Credit Alligator Records for being ahead of its time with concise, attention-grabbing titles. It’s been Twitter-friendly since vinyl. The title-track, “Hornet’s Nest,” immediately introduces the listener to a pure and modern electric blues party.
Inspired and unrelenting, Louis is doing with his career just what I was instructed by onlookers shortly after I stepped on that hornet’s nest: “Keep running!”
Joe Louis Walker