Mescal Canyon [Release date 25.09.15]
Blues award nominee, prodigious songwriter, multi band leader and genre hopping roots rock artist, Wily Bo Walker returns with the concluding part of his 2015 trilogy of solo albums.
‘Moon Over Indigo’ comes complete with a generous 20 page booklet with startling art work and is an album steeped in dark narratives, life experiences and two refreshingly arranged covers, all given expression by his bone chilling growl.
Glaswegian Bo doesn’t so much convey a song’s mood as inhabit it. He shifts air molecules with a whisky soaked husky growl that he applies like the darkest colour on an artist’s palette.
In musical terms he does this with a series of layered arrangements that are anchored by his band and topped by vocalist Kareña K and a kicking New York horn section, all under the watchful eye and cool ears of producer Danny Flam.
Wily Bo Walker explores a melange of moods, feels, narratives and grooves, no more so than on the opening ‘Walking With The Devil’, which features the triumvirate of Wily, the devil and Graham Hine’s weeping slide playing which threads its way through the heart of the track.
Each song feels like part of a broad based musical vision that is rooted in blues, swamp, funk and thick as molasses grooves, but is never restricted by any one of them, as Bo succinctly completes a three album cycle.
His subject matter treads a thin dividing line between the autobiographical and his innate storytelling ability. And where his previous album ‘Stone Cold Beautiful’ was a more guitar driven affair, here there’s a greater emphasis on big ensemble playing with Danny Flam’s vibrant horns which give Bo’s husky voice an extra impact.
His deep baritone references a familiar roll call of vocalists from Tom Waits, Dr. John, and Edgar Broughton to Wolf, Hawkins, Cocker, Beefheart and in his darker moments even Nick Cave. His unusual phrasing and tight arrangements allow him to immerse himself in his art and sparkle and surprises us with the kind of diversity and contrast that marked George Clinton funky adventures
‘I Want To Know’ is an unexpected brash, big band outing with Andrews Sister’s style bv’s and a busy horn section that stretches the funky percussive arrangement to the max. There’s a complete change of direction on the synth driven ‘Walk In Chinese Footsteps’, a horn inflected piece with more potent bv’s, as Wily adds his best vocal to fill the track with a characteristic growl
The title track heads for an after hours jazzy feel with a muted trumpet and drifting piano line, while ‘When The Angels Call Your Time’ could have come from Bo’s Rattling Bone repertoire, except that the track’s natural volition pushes it beyond a funeral march.
In sharp contrast ‘Drive’ has a big screen quality, as Bo vocally warms to his task over subtle horns on a kicking arrangement.
He transforms Willie Dixon’s lascivious blues ‘Same Thing’ into big band swagger and adds a nuanced string arrangement and big guitar figure on ‘For The Children’, notable for Kareña K ’s backing and harmony vocals.
He’s less happy on ‘Jenny’(Traces In My Arms)’, a gently thumbed double bass-led ballad that exposes his rough edged vocal and doesn’t quite do enough to engage us, unlike ‘Who Do You Love’ which is predicated on an Afro Beat intro and makes great use of a killer horn section.
This is blues Carruthers, but not as we know it! ‘Moon Over Indigo’ is an original, adventurous album that succeeds in fusing together musically related styles to provide a shifting backdrop to Bo’s world weary voice and lived in narratives. ****
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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