Having spent some time in New Orleans over the years, I’m always happy to review a new album from one of the local legends, especially one who mixes blues, jazz and soul into his own special sound. Walter “Wolfman” Washington has kept a low profile in the last decade – partially due to Hurricane Katrina – but he’s back with a vengeance via his new release, Doin’ The Funky Thing, on the Zoho Records label.
The soulful singer and guitarist has been a fixture in the area for years, but has also enjoyed major success nationally and internationally, backing up stars such as Lee Dorsey and Irma Thomas and later Johnny Adams. He’s also fronted his own band, the Roadmasters, for many years. He’s earned his current status as one of the Crescent City’s premium attractions.
The title of the album leaves little doubt about its contents, as Wolfman offers us a robust collection that ranges from bluesy to jazzy, but all with an overlay of his unique funky style. He’s backed up by the current Roadmasters, a solid group that includes bassist Jack Cruz, Kevin O’Day on drums, Jimmy Carpenter on sax and Antonio Gambrell on trumpet.
The first and last tracks on the album, parts one and two of “Shake Your Booty/Funky Thing,” sit on either end of a total of ten cuts, and the two-parter gives the listener a full dose of Wolfman’s musical philosophy. But it’s the second track, “I’m Back,” that’s especially meaningful, not only because of the performer’s resurgence but also because of his hopes for post-Katrina New Orleans.
Although Wolfman is all about the funk, he does show a softer side occasionally with ballads such as “One Day From Being A Fool,” and although his singing voice is a long ways from soft and sweet, he’s surprisingly effective. He’s a talented instrumentalist too, with echoes of Benson and maybe a touch of Wes Montgomery, showing some nice licks on “Wolf Jazz” and others. I also enjoyed Carpenter’s honky sax solo on “Crescent City Starlight,” but all of Wolfman’s band-mates are in their comfort zone with this style of music.
Good stuff — especially if you like to get down and a little funky with a New Orleans legend.