Personnel: Joe Louis Walker (vocals, guitar); Rob McNelley (guitar); Reese Wynans (piano, Wurlitzer piano, Hammond b-3 organ); Tom Hambridge (drums, tambourine, percussion, background vocals).
Audio Mixers: Michael Saint-Leon; Tom Hambridge.
Recording information: Sound Stage Studios, Nashville, TN; The Rendering Plant, Nashville, TN; The Switchyard, Nashville, TN.
Photographer: Michael Weintrob.
Joe Louis Walker is the John Henry of the blues, a guy who works hard and isn't afraid to put his back into his music. Hornet's Nest is the man's tenth studio album since the dawn of the 21st century, and not a few journeyman bluesmen would be very, very happy to come up with a session this strong and diverse with twice the time to prepare. Walker and his band are in tight, ferocious form on Hornet's Nest, with Walker's blazing lead guitar work supported by Reese Wynans' rollicking keyboards, Rob McNelley's able second guitar, Tommy MacDonald's rock-solid bass, and Tom Hambridge's aggressive but tasteful drumming. The song list is eclectic, ranging from the hard-edged rock-leaning sound of the title cut, the psychedelic flourishes of "Not in Kansas Anymore," and the soulful, horn-fortified strut of "All I Wanted to Do" to the gospel-influenced moods of "Keep the Faith" and the down-home slide guitar showcase "I'm Gonna Walk Outside." And Walker's taste in covers is commendable, adding doo wop-style vocals to Jesse Stone's "Don't Let Go" and turning the Rolling Stones' "Ride On, Baby" into a roadhouse rocker whose twin-keyboard attack recalls Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band. Walker's vocals run to the rough side, but he never lacks passion and the touch of grit suits these tunes: he knows how to drive this band, resulting in an album that's rich, satisfying, and fresh despite its strong allegiance to traditional blues. (Drummer Tom Hambridge also deserves a shout-out for his production, which is powerful and well-detailed while also sounding natural and realistic.) Walker proves that there are still great barnstorming blues artists letting it loose in clubs and ducking into recording studios when they get the chance, and Hornet's Nest confirms that at the age of 64, he has an awful lot of life left in him. ~ Mark Deming