Monday, August 10, 2015

DVD Review: Joe Louis Walker: Live in Istanbul

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Joe Louis Walker: Live in Istanbul
Directed by Unknown
MVD Visual
85 minutes, 1995 / 2015

More often than not, Joe Louis Walker goes by the moniker JLW, and so I will respect that. He is usually referred to as a blues artist – which is hardly surprising as he has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame – but seriously, that is a bit short-sighted.

JLW crosses genre boundaries left and right, fret by fret. Sure, there is a definite undercurrent of electric blues with JLW at the helm on his flashing guitar, but his style sways to boogie, blues rock, funk, soul and so on. He’s part Prince, part Jeff Beck (or any of the other Yardbirds' guitarists…do I seriously need to name them?), even a bit of Hendrix, and a smattering of Joe Tex.

He starts off strong here, but for me, it really starts to roll on the second song, the blues rock “Rain in My Mind,” followed by the rockin' R&B of “You Got To Lose.” Of course, every song is punctuated and taken to an aerie place on the tips of JWL’s fingers and he does not just finger his guitar, but takes it to a whoh-nutha-level.

Listen, I’m not one for endless guitar solos, and usually tend to find them kind of whatever, but JLW’s fretwork is more than impressive. A good example of that is “I Don’t Know,” whose solo is nearly as long as the rest (and for some reason, part of the solo is shot from the back). But that’s not to say that the band, the Roadmasters, just backs him up, as they also have their moment to shine, especially during the band member intros of “Funkin Blues,” including Mike Eppley playing the Hammond XB-2 (he’s talented, but man, the only place I can truly appreciate an electric piano is on ‘60s style garage rock and Tex-Mex), who has a wailingly long time to strut.

On rhythm guitar –also getting a chance to show off – and is Tom Rose, who may look like he stepped out of the ‘70s, but holds his own on guitar. Bassist Tony Saunders shows off some funkification right down to the classic wah-wahs, though I could have done without the orgasmic face and tongue action, honestly (Eppley is guilty of this, as well). He starts of a bit perfunctory, but Saunders knows his stuff and through employing a series of petals, he takes the bass into many different strata, all of which have a wow factor. Similarly, drummer Curtis Nutall starts with a simmer and brings it to full boil.

“Bluesifyin” could have been right out of the BB King playbook, with its screaming guitar that you can’t take your eyes off of, not that you would want to do so. Walker’s finger slide works overtime in Bonnie Raitt style (as a descriptor). “Play’em Where They Lay” is straight-from-the-1980s rockin’ boogie R&B. I can easily have seen this song up as music video from back then.

After that heavy number, they come back for a two-song encore, starting with “Lost Heart” and finishing with “Hidden Feelings,” both of which has a strong, later Motown vibe. With a leaning towards the Four Tops, they made me smile.

The sound is exceedingly clear, but the visuals are a bit fuzzy, seemingly shot on VHS. That being said, the further back of the room the camera is, the harder it is to see, and that seems to be from cigarette (hookah?) smoke. I remember those days, trying to take pictures of bands in clubs as the air visibly drifted by, in a way reminiscent of the bathroom scene in Rock and Roll High School.

The songs are all upbeat, bypassing the ballad for the quicker pace, making this eminently danceable at the most, and some serious foot tapping at the least. I may have made some comments about the physicalness of some of the musicians, but it’s kind of a moot point, because if you plug this in and just listen to it like an LP (or its digital equivalent), it’s the sounds that come out of the speaker that count. With the resonance being jacked and the music worthy of multiple listens, that’s my strong recommendation on how to get the most out of this DVD.

Joe Lewis Walker: vox / guitar
Tom Rose: rhythm guitar / back-up vox
Mike Eppley: keyboards / back-up vox
Tony Saunders: bass
Curtis Nutall: drums / back-up vox

Set List:
Can’t Get You Out of My Mind
Rain in My Mind
You Got to Lose
Street People
I Didn’t Know
Funkin’ Blues
Play’em Where They Lay
Lost Heart
Hidden Feelings

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