Joe Louis Walker Hellfire

Joe Louis WalkerHellfire
Having come of age in San Francisco during the height of acid rock, Joe Louis Walker has always displayed more dexterity than the generation of blues artists that preceded him. His formal training in music and deep knowledge of other styles, ranging from jazz to gospel, has also set him apart. But now with this shift to Chicago label Alligator, after two albums for Edmonton-based Stony Plain, Walker is intent on reaching the widest demographic of blues fans out there. That's the model on which Alligator has survived and Hellfire is another of the label's heavy-handed releases seemingly aimed at a classic rock audience. For some purists, Walker's willingness to straddle that fence will make Hellfire an infuriating listen. It doesn't matter whether he's getting into a Stones-y groove on "Ride All Night," preaching the gospel on "Soldier For Jesus" or fully unleashing his chops on "What's It Worth," the album's overbearingly streamlined production never stops feeling like a badly fitting suit. Walker is an exceptional blues artist at a time when there are few left, but on Hellfire, despite its volume, he comes off as frustratingly average. (Alligator)