Album review: WILY BO WALKER & KARENA K – A Long Way From Heaven

WILY BO WALKER & KARENA K – A Long Way From Heaven

Mescal Canyon [Released 12.12.14]

From the opening, sharply contrasting but perfectly synchronised vocals of Wily Bo Walker’s Tom Waits style growl, and Kareña K’s  fluttering retorts, you will either love or recoil from ‘A Long Way From Heaven’.  Happily the perfect blend of voices, inspired playing and refreshing material makes ‘A Long Way From Heaven’ a delightful introduction to a duo with a difference.

This narrative and gravel voiced CD journeys through colourful narratives, sophisticated arrangements and always showcases the arresting voice of Scotsman Wily Bo Walker.

The title track is a stunning introduction to a couple who weave in out of a horn led arrangements and lyrically interesting piece that you could imagine finding a home on film soundtrack.

Such is the versatility of Wily’s vocal on this track that he initially sounds like Tom Waits and his fellow countryman Tam White, and when he soars and growls he’s Joe Cocker in his prime. He’s also a decent guitarist too, who rarely overstays his welcome.

‘A Long Way From Heaven’ is a beautifully crafted piece of work which pays particular attention to the minutiae of the project. This extends from the rich vocal performances and well crafted arrangements to the Susan Shulman’s art work and the effective album sequencing.  Thus the impressive opening ballad is followed by the handclapped,  acapella, close to the mic vocal of ‘Love Will Find A Way’, with its light and shade vocal parts that gives all 6 tracks their essential dynamic.

Wily and Kareña add whistle, bird song, ‘lalala’s’ and alternate lines on a totally compelling track, which although completely different to the title track is just a essential!

‘Angel In The Night’ is an atmospheric swampy and gospel tinged blues that is almost totally dominated by Wily Bo’s phrasing, save for Kareña’s sonorous soprano sax line and counterpointed vocals. It’s also a track that captures the kind of noir vibe that seamlessly slips from their music to the lyrics.

Given the CD’s lyrical and musical depth, ‘Did I Forget’ almost sounds like a throwaway piece that they could rattle off at any time. Curiously, it also exposes Wily’s limited range. While on the rest of the album he shapes the songs with his range and timbre, here he almost struggles to make the best of a retro sounding piece, and in doing so almost overshadows his own guitar playing which deftly colours the outro.

In complete contrast to the rest of the album, this track could have applied the less is more dictum.

Happily the big band swagger of ‘Rendedezvous Des Cheminots’ restores the balance. An apparent ode to train workers it positively swings, complete with Kareña’s Andrews Sisters style bv’s over Wily’s expressive growl.

The swaggering horns incidentally come from the Danny Flam Big Band – one of Wily Bo’s many other musical projects.

The closing Kareña K penned song ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’, nicely rounds off an impressive 6 track CD with a bluesy after hours feel.

‘A Long Way From Home’ smokes, smoulders and burn bright by turns, as Wily Bo Walker and Kareña K redefine the blues on their own terms. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00


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