feature photo: Zack Smith
Seth Walker made his new album Gotta Get Back (September 2, 2016 The Royal Potato Family) as a way to reconnect to his very roots-y roots. How roots-y? This singer-songwriter grew up in a communal log cabin in North Carolina, not something many people growing up in the late 20th century can claim. He came from a very musical family, from his grandfather who also served in the Navy band as well as in World War II. From his father who continues to teach cello (Walker’s original instrument) and Irish fiddle. His mother, the violinist. His uncle, the accomplished jazz bassist. And so on. They all immersed his developing mind with the sounds of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Willie Nelson, Son House and Guy Clark, among others.
It’s little wonder then that Walker was supremely prepared for the road he chose for his life’s calling.
Like the prior Sky Still Blue (2014), Gotta Get Back bears the involvement of the Wood Brothers but instead of Oliver Wood in the producers seat, that job is handed off to Wood Brothers keyboardist and drummer Jano Rix. Rix like Wood does nothing to get in the way of Walker, his guitar, his voice and his songs; his job was to make sure all is heard in full glory. Gotta Get Back is a little less guitar-heavy but manages to be timeless overall even more so than its immediate predecessor.
That timeless factor get raised a tad with some help close to Walker’s heart, which brings us back to that family of his. He brought in his father, mother and sister to contribute to string parts for a handful of tunes, something that Seth hadn’t had on his records since Leap Of Faith three albums back, but this time, it’s — ahem — personal. He even assigned dad Scott the task of creating the string arrangements and three sat in a semi-circle around the son as he stood with his guitar and let that naturally soulful voice of his stream out. The best of these family affairs, “The Sound Of Your Voice,” is lifted by Scott Walker’s thoughtful string arrangement coming in and out of focus around a nocturnal organ; the chart pours some syrup on it with none of the sappiness.
The presence of orchestral flourishes do nothing to disrupt the overall down-home vibe of Walker’s music, and while there’s that emphasis on “gettin’ back,” much of the music is connected to Walker’s current New Orleans environs. That is unmistakable when the album leads off with a couple of Big Easy funky numbers “High Time” and “Fire In The Belly.” The former is fueled by frisky piano tinkling and Chris Wood’s acoustic bass, and the latter by Walker’s own good ‘n’ dirty Jimmie Vaughan guitar. “Way Past Midnight” is yet more joyful Nola reverie, a Seth Walker twist on ‘Fess Longhair.
It’s not just the Creole stuff, there’s almost no Southern-birthed music style Walker doesn’t present here with style, grace and nothing more. A little church organ and spiritual chorus of vocals help to make “Back Around” a gospel delight and a rockabilly guitar puts a accent on the jazzy RnB number “Movin’ On.” “Call My Name” is a serving of soul-drenched folk-rock characteristic of classic Dobie Gray, “Turn This Thing Around” sounds inspired by the pre-Beatles doo-wop rock of Dion, and then there’s the breezy, Caribbean soul of “Dreamer.”
Walker takes the airplane to a soft landing with his last couple of songs. “Gotta Get Back” encapsulates Walker’s seamless blend of country, blues and folk ever so subtly reinforced by a horn arrangement and “Blow Wind Blow” is just Walker with an acoustic guitar, harmony vocals and his familial string section.
North Carolina, Nashville, New York, Austin or New Orleans, it doesn’t matter where Seth walker hangs his fedora, his rich musical upbringing is always there with him, on this album and, really, any of his records. Gotta Get Back can’t be considered return to his core strengths and values when he never really strayed from them. Think of it more as a renewal of his vows to the family and music that made him who he is.
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