October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

Joe Louis Walker (Verve)

It sounds like blues maestro Joe Louis Walker had today’s headlines glued to his guitar case when he entered the historic Muscle Shoals Sound studios in Sheffield, Ala., last winter to record this rousing, rocking, gospel-tinged blues album. Or maybe Walker, whose songs of lust and contrition play like Bill Clinton’s inner dialogues, simply got an early look at the Starr report. In his title cut, about a philandering politician who enjoys “Kissin’ babies and the fine young girls,” Walker sings, “I have sinned…. But I’m gonna change my ways/ Right before Judgment Day.” And in “Repay My Love,” Walker sounds like someone who has been felled by the flash of a thong: “You hypnotized me with all of your charms…. Is this the way that you repay my love?” Other selections could also have been inspired by the occupant of the Oval Office: “I’m Not Messin’ Around,” “Lyin’ in the Name of Love,” “Tell the Truth” and “My Real Fantasy” (“I’ve got a deep dark secret, baby”).

The truth, of course, is that the San Francisco-based bluesman, whose clear, sturdy tenor voice and supple guitar lines lead the muscular Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (including celebrated guitarist Jimmy Johnson and organist Clayton Ivey), is actually working in an idiom much older than today’s news. Chief Executive or not, Bill Clinton is not the first guy to suffer the blues.

Bottom Line: Timeless music given a timely context

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