East Side Slim
Seth Walker – Leap Of Faith – Hyena Records, 2009
Seth Walker happens to be one of those artists who are very difficult to pigeonhole into one musical genre (troubadour…?), and the World is a better place for it. He describes his own music as a being "a different point of blue" (as in a different point of view.) As a favor to loyal readers of this website, this reviewer will point you in a direction, a reference point of sorts, to start from. If you enjoy the music and vibe of Delbert McClinton or Guy Forsyth, then it's very likely that you will also enjoy Seth Walker's music.
Walker was raised in a somewhat communal environment in rural North Carolina, with exposure to much music via his parents and his parents' friends. This musical indoctrination included large doses of great songwriters, folks such as Willie Nelson. This early-life exposure to music seems to have instilled a love of great songwriting and melody in Seth (and lots of hard work on his part didn't hurt, either.)
Walker has spent most of his career being associated with the Austin, Texas music scene. He lived and worked among that scene since the mid 1990s, spending about 15 years in Austin before making a move to Nashville, Tennessee around 2009-10. Nashville has become the new Mecca for (gasp!) singer-songwriter type artists – it's not just country anymore (you need to visit Branson, MO for that!)
The CD being reviewed here, Leap of Faith (a song associated with Delbert McClinton), is a nod of sorts to the influences of Delbert's music on Seth. Walker worked with Delbert's primary songwriting collaborator on this CD – Gary Nicholson - as well as with Tom Hambridge (notable from working with Susan Tedeschi, among others.) In addition to that, Seth worked with some of Delbert's musicians while recording this album, including keyboard ace Kevin McKendree. A few other names that may be familiar to many of you also conspired to make this CD a fine piece of work, including (but not limited to) Colin Linden, Steve Mackey, Lynn Williams and Jim Hoke.
Seth played guitars, wrote and/or co-wrote most of the songs, and sang the songs. Seth's voice, while not particularly strong or technically dazzling, a little raspy here and there, is very warm and exceptionally expressive. He recognizes what his skills are and works within that base to his advantage, and to our enjoyment.
The Songs: (songs written by Seth Walker/Gary Nicholson unless specified otherwise)
1. Can't Come With You
--The lead-off track to the CD, it rides an infectious, optimistic feeling bluesy groove. Slices of slide guitar and splashes of horns add sunny highlights to this one – it makes you smile and want to dance, and it's hard to go wrong with that.
--This song reminds me much of James Hunter's recent works, both in melody and vocal textures. It is a pretty little love song set to a Latin rhythm with relaxed instrumental backing, which includes the tasteful use of strings: very Sam Cooke-ish in feel.
3. Leap Of Faith – (Gary Nicholson/Glen Clark)
--All the Delbert fans out there likely recognize this tune. Seth tweaks the arrangement a bit, making it a little jazzier than Delbert's version, especially in his use of piano and organ on this take. This is a very nice cut!
4. I Got A Song
--I love the line from this song that says "'cause I knew all along it was gonna go wrong, but at least I got a song…" – beautiful! This has a late-night feel, featuring brushed drums, strings, upright bass and piano, definitely capturing the melancholy mood associated to the quoted line.
5. Memory Pain – (Percy Mayfield)
--Many people are likely more familiar with this song by the title "Serves Me Right To Suffer", but regardless of title it's a classic tune written by one of R&B's most magnificent songwriters, Mr. Percy Mayfield. I like Seth's arrangement here very much, especially the use of "popping" guitar notes during a brief solo turn near mid-song.
6. Dig A Little Deeper
--This mid-tempo, laid-back groover looks into what a person sometimes needs to do in order to make "it" right with that special someone. We all have baggage of some sort, and if we don't deal with, don't escape from, those burdens we may just miss out on something, or someone, truly special. And just so you don't miss it, the percussion work on this cut is special, too!
7. Lay Down (River of Faith) – (Seth Walker)
--This song is so pretty that the first few notes (a few sparse single-picked notes on acoustic guitar) actually brought tears of joy to my eyes - old East Side Slim may be a bit of a soft touch… Those of you for whom music seems as essential as air will fully understand what this means. In all seriousness, this acoustic-based spiritual number is one of the most beautiful new tunes I've heard in a long time. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous…
8. Lately I've Let Things Slide – (Nick Lowe)
--A little south of the border melancholy feel going on here, examining a different angle of the previous track. While many of us strive to be "good" people, to do the "right" things by others as well as ourselves, sometimes we slip a little, taking a misstep or two here or there, and don't quite make it. Sometimes even costing us things that are very dear…heed the warning; don't let things slide!
9. I Don't Dance
--Seth isn't all about melancholy music, as he and the band bring things back up tempo-wise. While the tune has a sunny, back porch boogie-light feel, there's still something a little darker lurking around the lyrics – even with the dance step references (mashed potato, shag).
10. Something Fast – (Seth Walker/Gary Nicholson/Tom Hambridge)
--Other than the song Leap of Faith, this tune probably has the most Delbert-like feel of any songs on the CD. Infectious rockabilly-ish rhythm (especially with that pounding piano), clever lyrics, slightly quirky arrangements…it's a lot of fun! It's also the only song on the CD on which Delbert shows up (at least according to the album notes and my ears. Listen closely and you just might hear him; you better turn it up nice and loud.
11. In The Dark
--Very cool…spare, cutting electric guitar, Bo Diddley beat, unobtrusive yet essential voice-like rhythm guitar and vocals. That's it, and when it's it, you know you've got it! (A very rough paraphrase from an old James Harman liner note…spun to the positive)
12. Falling Out Of Love With You
--One last melancholy song to close out the album – album sounds so much warmer than CD. Say them one after the other and see if you don't agree: Al-bum….Cee Dee… Sorry about that; a bit of rambling kicked in there. Now, back to the business at hand… The title pretty much says it all about this track. Anyone who has ever been "let go" by someone held dear will understand the sentiment – at some point you have to make yourself fall out of love with that person who let you go in order to get moving along with your own life. Unfortunately, that's typically much easier said than done… And for when those occasions do occur you have wonderfully healing music from folks like Seth Walker to help see you through!
This CD, Leap of Faith, is a stunning work by Seth Walker and friends. It's spiritual and engaging, as well as being beautifully written, arranged, played and recorded. Basically, it sounds a lot like the work of an artist who is a hopeful (rather than hopeless) romantic, one who is able to transfer his lyrical thoughts and musical ideas into real forms, forms that touch the listener due to their simple honesty and age-old truths. This album is overflowing with wonderful melodies and inspiring, clever lyrics. Let's get around to rating this bad boy – I'm giving Seth Walker's Leap of Faith an STLBluesometer rating of 4.50 (out of 5) – it's a good one!
For more information concerning Seth Walker, see the following websites:
Howland - aka
"East Side Slim"