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Walter “Wolfman” Washington — Feel So at Home


Walter Wolfman Washington Feel So At Home

The slower, the sadder, the better.

 

That incongruous combination—put into play so well by, say, B.B.’s “The Thrill is Gone,” Stevie Ray’s “Tin Pan Alley,” or anything that seeped from the catalogues of Bobby Bland or George Jones—is what keeps Feel So at Home simmering and smoldering in perpetual slow-burn for its mesmerizing entirety. It’s a major, late-night vibe just as enveloping as the deep darkness of those wee, small hours after midnight. Albeit softer and warmer. But crushingly aching nonetheless.

 

And this is coming from a New Orleans bluesman who could vigorously funk and fizz with the best of them: Walter “Wolfman” Washington.

 

At some point along the way, Edward Joseph Washington Jr., born in 1943, began calling himself Walter. “Wolfman” got tacked on, too, via his onstage challenges of better-known guitarists, a tactic known as wolfing. By his teens, he was already a full-time musician. After having backed top hometown singers such as Lee Dorsey, Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas and cousin Ernie K-Doe, Washington finally garnered the national spotlight for himself in the 1980s when leading his Roadmasters through horn-boosted blues souped-up with funk and soul.

 

But if you’ve ever heard him on prior albums shake down Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “You Can Stay but the Noise Must Go On,” “Get on Up” or, for that matter, “Shake Your Booty,” this is nothing at all like that.

 

Feel So at Home, adrift on the gossamer wings of “It’s Rainin’ in My Life” and “Without You,” defies gravity. Somehow, a heavy, busted heart beats weightlessly in midair. Because, expanding upon the startlingly intimate about-face made by 2018’s My Future Is My Past, this swansong session keeps the spotlight on a very calmed Wolfman. Whereas Future had solo, acoustic moments, Home ups the lushness by slowly stirring in a string section.

 

And when that orchestration, sometimes bumped up by woodwinds, curls around the swish of brushed drums, the gentle trickle of piano, and Washington’s mahogany voice oozing into the microphone like honey out from an eyedropper, the result is quite exquisite. The opening title track, wafting by on a cloud, sets the impeccably stylish tone.

 

The lines of demarcation between straight blues and blue ballads become immaterial here, since Washington’s brooding delivery never wastes a lyric or the emotion tied to it. “Black Night,” Charles Brown’s anthem to loneliness that everyone from John Lee Hooker to Buddy Guy has wept, works alongside a growled take on “I’ve Been Wrong for So Long.” But the universally relaxed pace doesn’t stop his shapely semi-hollow-body guitar from getting its licks in, whether bellyaching Guitar Slim’s “Along About Midnight” on single strings or shooting teardrop notes through “Sufferin’ Mind” like lazy lightning. Proof that when the blues come to call, they needn’t roar or maul to take charge.

 

Yet, soothing medicinal powers lurk within all this majestic melancholy. And, just to play it safe, a surefire antidote is included: “Lovely Day.” Sounding like a gem out of Dinah Washington or Nat Cole’s songbook (but, in fact, an original), the song’s verses let Washington climb out of the prior gloom, line by line, the deeper his baritone wades into the velveted melody and cherished hours reminisced.

 

Feel So at Home is an album Washington had in him for a long, long time. It just needed time to come out: quiet time, reflective time, time to retool after a lifetime of energetically bringing listeners, club audiences and festival goers to their feet with his brand of can’t-sit-down partying. Time, however, that Walter barely had, having squeaked in this stunning session shortly before cancer claimed him on December 22, 2022, two days after his 79th birthday.

 

Label: Tipitina’s Record Club

Release Date: 11/17/2023

 

Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski




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