Sunday, 30 December 2007

CD Review - Toby Walker

Just Rolled In
Toby Walker

This is a fabulously fun CD, featuring acoustic blues guitar the way everyone should play it – with precision, gusto, and sass. You won’t hear better picking than this.

Walker, a Long Islander, was raised far from the Mississippi Delta. But his passion for blues and rag prompted him to head south. He tracked down musicians from an earlier era, learning from the likes of Eugene Powell, James "Son" Thomas, Etta Baker and R.L. Burnside.

His repertoire, a mix of covers and originals, is, he says, “99.9 percent songs of thieving, lying, stealing, cheating, murder and mayhem” – leavened, thankfully, with a large helping of humour.

Walker’s vocals rarely rise above serviceable, though they grow on you. The thing here is the guitar. Whether it’s blues or ragtime, the syncopation and rhythm make it hard to sit still when he plays.

With his funny between-song patter, Walker is a born storyteller; his guitar is an extension of that. His playing is not frantic and overfull, but still technically astonishing. He senses when the spaces say more than notes, and when a single bent note can move the story along.

‘Blame It On The Bass Player’ – an instrumental paean to those underappreciated musicians – is humour without words. Walker’s thumb gleefully picks out classic bass lines while his fingers tell another story up top.

And when Walker sings, the interplay between his vocal storytelling and that of his guitar is guaranteed to raise a smile.

Most of the album is light-hearted, but it ends with two barnburners – notably the defiant ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, on which Walker’s voice, playing and blues come into their own.

This CD is 98 percent happy and 100 percent blues. If you think that’s a contradiction, just listen a while – and smile.

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