LIVE: Joe Louis Walker with Misty Blues @ Cohoes Music Hall, 10/08/2021
Regional Talents Murali Coryell and Misty Blues Prove Stellar Additions to Joe Louis Walker’s Exceptional Talents
I try not to let my expectations of a concert cloud the real experience of the show. This is particularly important with Joe Louis Walker because he is so versatile. His about-to-be-released CD is even called Eclectic Electric. What I like best about his style is authoritative guitar work on post-war Chicago blues, and he delivered just that in a stellar Cohoes Music Hall performance Friday night.
Fundamentally, I can get the same thing from him that I get from Buddy Guy except Buddy Guy is a tease whereas Joe just puts the hammer down and uses the strings of his guitar like a walk through heaven’s garden.
Buddy Guy builds your expectations and then releases them in orgasmic explosions. Joe is one continuous orgasm. Joe takes you to the same place as Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. Like Buddy Guy, he has great dynamics, but he’s actually more versatile and universal in absorbing influences from artists as disparate as Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk and The Soul Stirrers, Michael Bloomfield and Nick Lowe, all of whom he’s played with in 54 years of professional experience.
Like blues rocker Albert Cummings, almost every second of every song is a jaw dropping excursion through a performance displaying the kind of energy of a man half his age of 70.
One of our area’s potential icons – and I use the word “potential” because his reputation has yet to catch up to his prowess – is Murali Coryell. He played with Joe Friday night like they were brothers of a different mother. Murali performed arguably his best-known song “Sugar Lips” from an album of the same name produced by Tom Hambridge, as good a producer as there is. Joe LouisWalker appears on the original studio recording of “Sugar Lips.”
Murali’s version of that number Friday night bested the recorded version and was a highlight of the hour and a half set. Joe and Murali have been friends for more than 30 years. Joe even has played with Murali’s dad, the late Larry Coryell, a genius of jazz guitar. Murali, on the other hand, is a straight head electric blues juggernaut.
A Hudson Valley native, he was my go-to guy when I was head of the Northeast Blues Society. I still say he does the best version of Sam Cook’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” of anyone alive. He didn’t do that this time out, but you could feel him squeezing the best out of Joe on virtually every song. Particular standouts were “You Got To Lose,” “Werewolves of London” (yes, the Warren Zevon rocker) off Joe’s new LP Eclectic Electric, John Lee Hooker’s first hit “Boom, Boom” and an encore of a song I was unfamiliar with but sounded liked “Too Tough To Take No More.”
Joe performed “Lady in Red” from his new album with Peter Frampton-like wahwah pedal runs and reached back on “Mess My Mind Up” to a time when he decided to move back from France to the states. “After so many croissants, I had to move back to America,” he told the crowd.
An hour and a half in, he polished off “One Time Around” and told his fans he’d played his allotted time and did we want one more. You know what the answer to that was.
Western Massachusetts’ Misty Blues was the perfect opener for Joe Louis Walker. Together 19 years, the group has the distinction of making it into the finals of the Blues Foundation’s 2019 International Blues Challenge in Memphis on their second try. The Capital Region Blues Network sent them a year earlier, but they didn’t make it past the first round. They should enter again. I’ve judged that competition many times, and this band has the qualities to win against competitors from around the world.
The tight and tough six-piece band is led by Gina Coleman who disappears into the group’s all-original numbers like a contemporary Bessie Smith living the lyrics. She is not just channeling the song. Her songs drive her, and she disappears into them like a vessel through which the music is revealed. Like Alexis P. Suter without the top hat, she is mesmerizing.
Actor Ruben Santiago turned Gina onto the blues in 1999 when she worked with him in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of A Raison in The Sun in which she played a gospel singer. More than two decades later, she fronts a band that’s recorded 11 albums and opened for Tab Benoit, John Primer, Albert Cummings and Michael Powers. They recorded their most recent album at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios during the pandemic.
In the last three decades, bands from our area have not fared well in the IBC competition. The winners usually possess an ability to perform originals that pay homage to delta and Chicago blues traditions but with enough contemporary influences to advance the art. It’s a tricky balance more easily executed by artists who come from the Delta or Chicago and have absorbed the mojo by osmosis. Gina has that mojo. She knows how to “sell” winning originals and is backed by a band that showcases her talents with enough authority to deliver a set that earned them the honor of Joe Louis Walker sitting in with them on their last number.