SETH WALKER / Seth Walker (HYENA)
Guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Seth Walker, raised in rural Altamahaw-Ossipee, North Carolina and an Austin resident since 1995, comes from a long line of talented musicians and began training on classical violin and cello at the age of four. On Seth Walker, his fifth album originally released on Jerry Hall’s Pacific Blues label and now recently reissued on Hyena Records, Walker treats listeners to a "different point of blue." This record is a delightful tour of the blues that encompasses soul, swing, R&B, and a handful of jaw-dropping slow ballads.
One of the first things that impresses is Walker’s vocals. Much like the voice of the late Portland harmonica player and vocalist Paul DeLay, Walker’s conveys a wisdom and honesty beyond its years, so much so that Taj Mahal once called him a "little, white Ray Charles." That description couldn’t be more appropriate, as Walker proves on his deeply soulful cover of "By the Water," originally written by New Orleans legend Dave Bartholomew. I’ve had the chance to see Walker perform that song many times at the Continental Club and in juke joints on Austin’s East side, and this studio recording captures the magic of those live shows (no small feat, mind you). Mark Hays’ drumming is right in the pocket, accented with beautiful reserved B3 organ from Italian expatriate Stefano Intelisano.
Walker takes a trip down to the Delta on Jimmy Reed’s "I Know It’s a Sin," accompanied by guests Mike Keller (currently a member of Marcia Ball’s touring band) and Fabulous Thunderbirds front man Kim Wilson, whose reserved harmonica riffs follow Walker’s leads hand-in-glove. "Miss Ann" is a fine swinging jump blues, and Walker even channels a bit of John Lee Hooker on the intro to "Change My Way". One of the album’s finer moments happens on "2’ Left to the Ceiling," a heart-wrenching number co-written with Hays that tells the story of a Katrina victim, trapped in his or her home in the lower Ninth Ward. Lines like "the G.I. Bill and Jesus both split for higher ground, and I can’t find my way to the door" deliver the message as the flood waters slowly rise through the song’s end. Powerful stuff.
Walker’s confidence, versatility, and artistry offer a refreshing perspective on the blues genre, and no doubt the Seth Walker reissue on Hyena is going to propel Austin’s best kept secret from the Lone Star State to a town near you. When it happens, don’t miss the chance to catch him live.
- Roger Gatchet
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