Mop and Glow

Minnesota janitor cleans up with his sturdy soul comeback

No longer a Wee lad
photo: Doug Knutson
No longer a Wee lad

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

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In a development that should please custodians of oldfangled soul and custodians of buildings, the year's best deep-soul album looks to be the pièce de résistance of a Minneapolis janitor. Willie Walker, as is common knowledge to upwards of 672 record collectors, made some hit-and-miss sides in the late '60s for Goldwax and Checker. The obscurity of those singles is generally justified, but "There Goes My Used to Be," a trotting lament for which Goldwax attached the unfortunate epithet "Wee" to the diminutive singer's name, is worth seeking out. As is Right Where I Belong, his new home-recorded collaboration with Minneapolis's don't-call-'em-journeymen Butanes. Led by guitarist-writer Curtis Obeda, whose three-string pluck-and-strum and Albert Kingly leads caress and bite as needed, the nine-piece (give or take) band has the Abbott and Costello–ish ability to sound both fat and lean. No longer a Wee lad, Walker now gives his high voice a senescent rasp-and-whistle. It's cranky yet seductive, if that's possible. The nearest reference is O.V. Wright's early-'70s stuff, but if you hear Sam Cooke or Bobby "Blue" Bland, you're right, too. Sometimes, Obeda the songwriter sounds like a very good guitarist—the modestly philosophical "Change" (he's for it) is more Dr. Phil than Dr. Feelgood. But his songs of love and sex and cheating are sturdy at worst and stirring at best—as with "I Feel It," which Walker obviously and correctly does. Howard Tate, your comeback ass has just been kicked.

 
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