Willie Walker and the Butanes: Right Where I Belong

Willie Walker and the Butanes
Right Where I Belong
One on One Records

The irony of the title is that Willie Walker is barely known here in his adopted hometown. It took a British label to unearth his collectible 1960s Memphis soul recordings, and another British label to release this new full-length, a return to sweet soul style. At a Cabooze show on May 8, Walker crooned for an audience that could well have been mostly family and old friends: Since relocating from Memphis in 1960, he has performed with the Royal Jubileers, the Val-Dons, Willie and the Bees, and Salt, Pepper & Spice. But it wasn't until 2002 that he cut an album of his own, a self-titled set of covers (on Haute), and it wasn't until this follow-up that he released one worthy of his powdery voice.

Right Where I Belong asks you to believe that a great Memphis soul singer has lived among us all along. Even the reissues don't prepare you for the sound. Where Walker's grit-free Sam Cooke impersonations on volumes one and two of The Goldwax Story (Ace Records) are confident and clarion, the older singer is a more vulnerable love man, with a tone that's sure but ravaged, and with hints of a lisp. Written entirely by Butanes guitarist Curtis Obeda, the 14 songs rehearse some clichés ("You picked me up when I was down, placed my feet on solid ground," etc.), and the horns don't have the greased ease of Virgil Nelson's accompanying Hammond. But Obeda's attentive arrangements are the perfect setting for a soul sage who doesn't showboat, and Walker makes every cliché feel true.

 
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