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Big Walker – Root Walking

Time: 46:04

Derrick Big Walker may not be the most prominent name featured in blues circles throughout the world. It still doesn’t stop him from winning endorsements from the likes of Blues Revue, Living Blues and Alligator label honcho Bruce Iglauer.

Having played with Luther Tucker, Big Mama Thornton, Mike Bloomfield and many others has been his bread and butter and these ingredients are the key factors in making the Root Walking CD a listenable piece of recording.

Setting old American poems from two centuries ago to music isn’t a formula most musicians follow. It’s a challenge that’s hard to pull off yet Walker can do it modernizing the material to today’s present standards.

Saxophone and harmonica are Walker’s playing cards. You can tell the man probably loves the harp as his instrument of choice as it’s the centerpiece for the majority of the songs. Nothing wrong with that as this cd bears the imprint of Chicago Delta styled blues made fashionable by Muddy Waters and resurrected by apostles Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield.

Walker’s sandpaper vocals are far from being technically perfect. Their gruffness is still suited to the material. Although this piece of work was recorded in Stockholm, Sweden it’s instantly forgettable as you would swear these tracks were laid down in some studio located in Chicago, Tennessee or New Orleans. The hoodoo strut of “Papa Guede” is the perfect precursor to the tent revival evil chanted “Devils Cloth” that cloaks itself in its darkness proudly.

Previously speaking of Muddy Waters, nowhere is that presence more felt than in opening cut “It’s Hard” which lopes along lazily until second track “Raise A Ruckus” raises the roof with Walker’s harp leading the cavalry into a lowland fling party after the battle. Even when a bit of a breather comes like in “Run Night Run,” the background vocals are the cushion for Walker to spray harmonica notes over to carry the number along an ominous edge. It’s a contrast to the uplifting cowpoke sounding “The Hypocrite Blues” that ends like a flash of light before you begin to appreciate its Western Plains atmosphere.

And in case for some listeners when things are getting a bit complacent, than “Can’t Take No Train” will pick up the slack though it’s a rewrite of the obscure chestnut “Mystery Train” made popular back in the day by Elvis Presley. Not that it will matter to fans needing a fix of that boogie fever so they can feel the effect of being in an old blues bar in Chicago with the time machine dials set somewhere in the 1950s.

After Credence Clearwater Revival covered “Midnight Special” it seemed very likely this song would fade into the ether. With the escalating interest in blues, artists have dug this song out of obscurity and have put their own personal stamp on it. Joining the ranks, Walker’s sandpaper vocals do the song justice and although it may not capture the energy level that CCR created, the tune fits in well with the others as Walker’s harp playing once again carries the song across its joyous waters.

Ending track “Slave” contemplates the hardships of the Afro-American. It’s a strange way to end an album. Then again maybe it’s not. In his press release reads the quote “Afro-American poems from 17-1800 and his own original songs.” If Derrick Walker wants to take on the role of blues historian, he certainly has earned that right. No harm could come of a musician educating the listener and taking them on a journey to where the heritage of roots music began.

Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.

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