Virginia’s Ambassador Of The Blues is undoubtedly the writer-producer-performer-actor-comedian-harmonica maestro-and-sartorially splendid Bobby “BlackHat” Walters. This veteran – of both the blues and the United States Coast Guard – has not only been a major contributor to the genre with thousands of shows and several previous albums under his belt, he is also the foremost cheerleader for other blues performers and spends much of the year producing shows that include many of the groups that he admires and wants audiences to know better.
His latest independently released album, Put On Your Red Shoes, is his strongest album to date and is the album that will make him a household name. Several of the tracks have received major airplay on national blues programs, and he continues to tour with a solid kick-ass band.
The band consists of Brian Eubanks on bass and backing vocals, Tom Euler on guitar and backing vocals, Michael Behlmar on drums and backing vocals, and Lucy Lawrence Kilpatrick on keys. With this group, Walters made it to the 2016 IBC Finals in Memphis. Guest artists include Cal Hamlin on organ and backing vocals, Larry Berwald on guitar and pedal steel, and the effervescent Lucius Bennett III as a featured vocalist on one cut and background vocals on another.
Of the 12 tracks that comprise the album, 11 are originals and the only cover is a strong cover of a well-known song, although not one usually heard at a blues concert.
The album starts off with a very strong number, I Smell Another Man On You, that artfully moves from Walters’ harp and Euler’s guitar. This is one that’s been getting some play on satellite radio and there’s a good reason for that, it’s a good song and plays off a number of blues topics. Don’t underestimate Behlmar’s drumming or Kilpatrick’s cool keys, but it’s Walters’ harp that carries the song.
The follow up with Overdose Of The Blues, a very cool Chicago style track that should get some serious airplay. I know I’ll be featuring it on Time For The Blues, and while I haven’t heard this one performed live, I know it would be a killer. Walters’ harp break is outstanding and the band supports him extremely well.
I swore Walters wrote the next song, This Grey Beard, about me. When I told him that, he had a good laugh and told me he didn’t. He said is about all of us grey bearded guys who had been around long enough to have gained a little wisdom along the way. It’s a slow, languid ballad that touches a lot of key points. Listen for the plaintive approach with the harp and compare that to the way he’s been playing up until now. Great song, even if it’s not about me…
The next song is the funk blues anthem Put On Your Red Shoes. The song is almost guaranteed to get even the shiest members of the audience up and dancing. Walters, in his trademark Black Hat, leaps into the song along with guest vocalist Bennett, and the band tears into the song with gusto. Catch him doing this live when you can and see if you don’t get your feet moving – even if you're not wearing the requisite red shoes!
Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been recorded by many different artists over the years. Without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite songs, and Walters’ skillful interpretation on the harp is my absolute favorite version of the song. I’ve heard him perform this beautiful number live on many occasions and I’m delighted to finally be able to add it to my collection. When I first listened to the album, I must have hit the repeat button five or six times. Beautiful song.
BlackHat and Company get rocking on the next song, Baby Mama Drama Blues. It’s another song that blends a great beat with some very strong lyrics. You might find yourself bopping along to a painful story. The interplay of the band, especially between Euler and Kilpatrick drives the album into new territory. Definitely one that will be getting airplay.
They follow up with a dark number, Grim Reaper. While Walters wrote this song early in his career, the subject of your own mortality scares more than one person. I’ve actually performed this song live with the band and it’s a chilling experience. Listen to the almost pleading tone of the harp and the way Behlmar taps his cymbals to create the creepy mood. Very cool, and a definite emotional drop after the fun of the previous song, but at almost 10 minutes, it probably won’t receive as much airplay. Still, very atmospheric and theatrical.
|Photo of me joining Bobby on Grim Reaper|
A surprise song, May I Have This Dance, is next, and I say surprise as this is a real departure for BlackHat and the Band. This is a sweet country song that is delivered with assurance and verve. It’s more like old-school country, and one I would like to hear being picked up and covered by more traditional acts. It’s been said that you’ll never know what you’ll get at a Bobby BlackHat show, and apparently that goes for his albums as well! Enjoy.
The group is back to some swinging blues with Back To Cleveland. A love letter to BlackHat’s hometown, it’s got a strong backbeat and some sweet keyboards from Kilpatrick before BlackHat’s harp takes over. It’s a fun song, and let’s face it, kind of a rarity considering most blues songs evoke Memphis or Chicago. Nice to see Cleveland get a shout out.
He drops the tempo for the emotional When I Cry It’s Ugly. In an era of toxic masculinity, it’s nice to hear a song with a sensitive male approach. Behlmar’s creative drumming sets the tone for the song and Euler’s guitar break makes for a sentimental connection. A delightful and affecting number. Just let it wash over you.
Next up is You Got Me Runnin’, a faster paced number that the entire band gets a chance to shine. A more traditional shuffle tune that sets up a good dance groove and should get the audience moving and shaking. Guest artist Hamlin’s organ work adds a nice touch to the song.
The album closes with a 10 ½ minute version of I Hear Mama’s Voice that is guaranteed to bring tears to just about everyone’s eyes. Walters wrote the song not long after his own mother passed and he began to hear her voice in his head whenever he needed advice. For those lucky enough to have had a good mother in their lives, you know how comforting her voice and her words can be. This is another song that is a highlight of a Bobby BlackHat live performance.
Put On Your Red Shoes is the album that’s going to bring a lot of attention to Bobby BlackHat. He’s well-known here in the Mid-Atlantic area and thanks to his strong performance at the IBCs, he’s a favorite among blues musicians worldwide. Now that he’s getting more airplay, other fans around the country are discovering him for themselves.
Check him out, he’s one of the best – as well as being one of the best people in music. The world needs a few more like him, but there are very few to be found. I recommend the album without reserve – traditional fans will be attracted to his approach as will those who like a little experimentation in their music. One thing though, I don’t think any album can contain the joy that one experiences at a Bobby BlackHat performance. Those just have to be experienced to be believed.
(Photo of Bobby BlackHat and The Professor by Anita Schlank. Used by permission.)