Vizztone Records [Release date 12.01.18]
Not to be confused with the Blind Willie Johnson song, the Billy Walton Band’s ‘Soul Of A Man’ album strikes the perfect balance between their natural exuberance and nascent song craft.
If you include a self titled 6 track affair, this is their fifth release and it’s their best so far. From the goodtime ‘Save The Last Dance’ and the high-octane jump blues of ‘I Don’t Know’- featuring the relentless drive of sticksman Johnny D’Angelo – to the more reflective down-home finish of the ‘Days Like These’, we’re taken on an ebullient musical journey that flows mellifluously, as it embraces rock & roll, blues, soul and r&b.
The fact that the band can incorporate all those elements and still come out the other side with their signature sound, is an impressive statement as to how far they have come over the last 10 years.
They are an archetypal goodtime New Jersey band, but with strong material. As the album title suggests, they have a soulful feel to match their explosive style. And right at the centre of this exhilarating six piece combo is the explosive guitarist Billy Walton.
His impressive CV comes from a lifetime spent honing his craft on the road. He’s a decent songwriter, confident vocalist and supreme guitarist and ‘Soul Of A Man’ perfectly frames his talent. He leads a kick ass band that has bluesy influences and a soulful heart.
‘Soul Of A Man’ is the band’s second album for Vizztone and the two parties appear to be a perfect fit in terms of the label’s existing roster.
Benefiting from a successful pledge campaign – always a useful barometer of potential market value – the album enjoys a warm production and a crisp mix. There’s a lovely organic feel that almost sounds as if the band has soaked up the Hawaiian vibes – they cut the CD in the Aala recording studio in Maui, – while the soulful grooves were polished and mixed in Southern Philly, where else?
The band has also released ‘Soul Of A Man’ at just the right time. If their previous release ‘Wish For What You Want’ suggested a growing maturity in their song-writing, then ‘Soul Of A Man’ confirms that and nicely taps into the current American upswing in soul.
And yet, any album by the Billy Walton Band will always be judged by against their explosive live shows. Happily, they strike the perfect equilibrium in terms of the ebb and flow of their music and the feel and spark of musically related genres.
Their wide musical range is reflected in the feverish horn stabs and rip-roaring guitar of ‘I Don’t Know’, while ‘Hell N’ Highwater’ rocks hard with bass player William Paris on lead vocals.
But it’s with the smouldering, soul dripping feel of ‘My Little Bird’ that they really step up to the plate.
They eschew their normal bluster on an emotive song full of rich lyrical imagery with a beguiling hook and Billy’s beautifully toned intricate guitar playing, either side of a great horn arrangement.
Then there’s also ‘Something Better’, a soulful ballad with a fine vocal from Billy over another cool horn arrangement.
The album has two covers. A 20′s blues song ‘Minglewood Blues’ is delivered as a tribute to the late Bob Jones who used to play (he was 5 years Michael Bloomfield’s guitarist), as Billy adds more sonic delight. And they lean into John Fogerty’s ‘Green River’ with a sumptuous groove well suited to the band’s own style.
‘Soul Of A Man’ subtly evokes its title, on an album rooted in a powerhouse New Jersey style, but counterweighted by songs with lyrical and musical depth. Scratch the surface and you’ll find a soulful heart.
Finally a special word about the horns. This is a band that first hit the UK as power trio, which is still in evidence on the coruscating ‘Shine The Light’.
They’ve worked hard on building their profile sufficiently enough to tour and record with a horn section who are both perfect accompanists – as on ‘Poison Pill’ – and occasionally vibrant soloists, while exploring an array of sophisticated arrangements par excellence. ‘Soul Of A Man’ indeed!
Review by Pete Feenstra
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