I must start with a warning, there is a Scottish born musician called Tom Walker who (apparently) has had hits in whatever constitutes the charts these days, and he cites Paulo Nutini (which I thought was a chocolate spread!) as an influence. Although I’m sure he is proficient in his style, the Tom Walker we are talking about is, happily, different in every way and differentiates himself on the web with the moniker, Tom C Walker.
Our Tom was born in Birmingham in 1995 and started playing the guitar aged 12. He has quickly gained a reputation in the blues world and toured extensively here and in the USA. As The Tom Walker Trio he has supported John Lodge, Paul Jones and Devon Allman, as well as numerous headlining tours. His music is varied and mixes blues and soul with his dextrous guitar playing to create an original take on the genres.
In anticipation of his first full-length album, his appearance at the 5th UK Blues Challenge and a tour (now as a four-piece band) in late 2018, I am looking back at his two EPs from the last couple of years. The first one, The Stranger’s Face is a four-track work from 2016, credited as just Tom Walker. Opening with Human Nature, a drum roll gets us into a slow, bluesy soul number. It reveals that his voice has a wide range and veers toward the soulful side. The guitar playing is precise, the chords are liquid and the solo is carefully played to include the atmospheric gaps. Stranger’s Face gives a heavier chugging chord pattern and, although the vocals could do with a little more rawness to suit the lyrics, the guitar solo is again worth the entrance fee and towards the fade, the (too low in the mix) solo is very good: as is the great bass and drums. A change of pace as Thinking About Your Love has a funk overlay with a lovely guitar/bass in harmony ‘riff’. The solo has a lovely tone to it and comes across as a bit Robin Trower on a Gibson. Final track, Can’t Save Emotion, is an acoustic outing with the voice again a bit too ‘sweet’ for me, as the guitar (in my mind at least) yearns for something (a bit) closer to Dave Acari. It is well played and put together and would have benefited from a bit more of the picked solo at the end.
The second EP was released last year and called Into Space but billed as The Tom Walker Trio, shows a remarkable growth and maturity as he takes the best of his earlier experiences and develops them into a more fluent blues based feel across the five tracks. The title track opens with a blues-rock riff with a heavy drum and bass to fortify it. His voice is better here too with some bite to it, and in the chorus, it could almost be Elvis Costello singing. The distorted guitar solo has a bite too, although it doesn’t stay around long enough. Sweet Angel goes all soul over a sparse guitar backing. It is pleasant enough but is fairly unmemorable. Cross the Border changes that, however, with a simple but effective riff with Tom’s phased vocal serving as an intro before the band kick in and it takes a heavier edge. The bottleneck places this firmly in the true blues oeuvre, and the solo demonstrates he can do that too. The closing section, with its slide and increasing tempo, is hopefully something we will hear more of in the future. Next comes the funk as Air We Breathe opens with a Stax feel. A nice, measured, guitar solo elevates it beyond the threatened indifference it was beginning to generate. Messages close the EP with acoustic playing quietly in the background, with a simple electric progression over it: the electric also interposes some nice punctuation as Tom bemoans that “you never return my messages”. The solo is spoiled a little by his vocal interludes but is a good ‘un nonetheless.
These two EPs reveal a very talented guitar player and songwriter: some of the songs are a bit ‘light’ for my tastes and the more soulful ones (coupled with his vocal approach) bend toward poppy. When he does hit his blues stride, as on Cross the Border, you’re left in no doubt as to his abilities and promise. There is enough here to enjoy his understated, in a good way, mastery of the guitar. The solos, without exception, use all of the frets and all of the strings and leave gaps where there should be gaps. It all bodes really well for the forthcoming album, and I look forward to hearing that later in the year.
I have been unable to identify the Rhythm Section, so apologies to them, but whoever you are, you did a sterling job across all of the tracks.
SIXdoodle paws out of TEN …
The Stranger’s Face track listing:
- Human Nature
- Stranger’s Face
- Thinking About Your Love
- Can’t Save Emotion
Into Space track listing:
- Into Space
- Sweet Angel
- Cross the Border
- Air We Breathe