“The jukebox in the café don’t play nothing that I know: Hell, I guess I’ll save my quarter to hear that steam-boat whistle blow”: Sammy Walker’s voice still sounds strong on Blue Ridge Mountain Skyline. After decades of unavailability, both this 1977 project and 1976′s Sammy Walker are finally being rereleased. If today’s commercial jukebox don’t play nothing that you know, and there’s no steamboat nearby, this Walker reissue is well-worth a few of your quarters.
After his 1975 debut Songs for Patty, produced by Phil Ochs, Walker teamed up with Nick Venet and an excellent cast of musicians to record his second and third albums. Both are outstanding folk/country outings highlighted by Walker’s strong voice and distinctive songwriting style, which hints at Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie but has a starkness all its own.
Free from the self-obsession that spoils so many young songwriters, Walker turns his glance to the miseries and joys of others. At an earlier age than most, he discovered there’s more to life and songwriting than the endless refrain of love that distinguishes much of popular music. In songs like “Hollywood Sue,” “A Cold Pittsburgh Morning” and “The East Colorado Dam,” he deals convincingly with difficult themes, and “Legends” is a moving and eloquent elegy to his mentor Phil Ochs.
In their best moments, these albums sound like a summary of all that was great about the ’60s singer-songwriter movement: well-crafted lyrics, a compelling voice, and an authentic concern with justice and human fellowship. Like other gifted songwriters, Walker was swept off the musical map by the changing tides of popular taste in the ’80s, yet now the time seems right for an overdue rediscovery of his heartfelt song-stories. This double-album is an excellent place to start.
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