WILY BO WALKER & E D BRAYSHAW - The Road We Ride (Album)
There are not many recording artists around these days with the inclination or the imagination to produce what used to be known as the concept album. It usually starts with the spark of an idea that grows over the years into a full blown storyboard, and eventually an album. What WILY BO WALKER and E D BRAYSHAW have done, is taken it to the next level, and made it into three albums!
‘The Road We Ride’ is part two of the story of Johnny, Louise and Harry, and broken down into thirteen tracks, each dealing with a chapter of the tale. I must admit, on first listening, I thought this was a decent blues album, and then I read the accompanying booklet, and started to understand the lyrics, the mood, and the flow of the whole musical opera that was unfolding throughout the album.
It is at this point the listener should pour a big cup of your favourite brew, get yourself comfortable in a comfortable armchair, dim the lights and immerse yourself in the music while your imagination creates the cinematic accompaniment to fit the soundtrack.
Walker added: ‘Hopefully, the stories aren’t spelled out in such a way as to deny the listener their own interpretation and imagination as to what happens on those roads, on their journeys.’
It is quite clear very early on that Walker and Brayshaw have a great working relationship, melding together their writing, playing and arrangement talents in a way I can only compare to the likes of Meatloaf and Steinman, who were also outstanding artists on their own, but when working together produced one of the best rock operas in ‘Bat out of Hell’ that is still recognised as a real classic even today.
The curtain opens with ‘Storm Warning’ which is more upbeat than the title suggests, and is actually the beginning of the end for the relationship between Harry and Louise. Walker has a smoky blues rasp to his voice that reflects the mid-west dust bowl farm where our journey starts.
After Louise takes off, Harry is left to ponder what went wrong, and while dealing with his heartbreak, tries to understand the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.
‘I Want to Know’ has Walkers vocals slowed down to a melted chocolate silky smoothness, with Brayshaw fading in and out with some extended Carlos Santana style guitar grooves in the breaks.
The picture should be starting to build by now, andthe inspiration for the album was explained to me by Bo: ‘I love film noir, I loved the beat-writers and I love independent cinema and specifically ‘road-trip’ cinema has always intrigued me. ‘Two Lane Blacktop’, ‘Easy Rider’, ‘Badlands’, ‘Paris Texas’ through Jim Jarmusch’s work etc all combined stories that I could identify with - that travelogue, that music fuelled journey into…’ where ever your imagination takes you, or as Bo puts it:
‘the roads we ride where our dreams collide, are all we can ever call our own, is the phrase that the whole show / film storyboard is built around for this album.’
We first meet Johnny in a one horse town working the music circuit as a troubadour for hire, when in walks Louise. ‘The Motel Blues’ has more of a country feel to it as Johnny manages to woo Louise in to his bed. Even the guitar break here has more of a fuzzy southern feel to it.
The scene shifts back to Harry as he starts a downward spiral of despair, suffering the heartbreak of separation, and on the point of asking for someone to ‘Loan Me a Dime’ to call his love. This is a slow mournful blues number to match the feeling generated by the lyrics.
Meanwhile, Johnny and Louise become an item following their one night stand, and ‘September Red’ is a testimony to the love blossoming between them. The chorus becomes more powerful, when the backing vocals join in to almost sound like a gospel choir. Brayshaws guitar stretches this ballad into an epic with its long, hanging, soulful notes.
‘Killers on the Run’ brings the good times to an end for our couple, as they hit the road together to get away from the misfortune they have brought upon themselves. Like Bonnie and Clyde their destinies are now entwined for better or for worse! The get-away continues into ‘Running Wild’ as the crime spree continues for our two fugitives. Walker explains further his thought process: ‘The characters’ stories build across the tales on the album to what I see as a natural conclusion, and whilst ’The Roads We Ride’ is ideally meant to be listened to as a whole, it is constructed in a way that each song can be listened to in isolation from the rest; a solitary piece.’
The first single picked out from the album is exactly as Bo described, ‘Night of the Hunter’ is part of the tale, but easily appreciated in its own right, and perfect for any blues/rock radio.
Poor Harry is still suffering, and is now riding the rails and singing the ‘Tennessee Blues’ as the percussion sounds like a steam engine, Walker uses his husky vocals to good effect lamenting the separation issues of leaving home and moving on to pastures new. Which as it turns out is New York, five years later.
‘After the Storm’ washes Harry up with little to show for himself, but perhaps it also means it’s time for a new start.
The closest thing comparable to this album that I can think of is Dire Straits ‘Private Investigations’. Every song on that album was a story, and each one was also quite capable of standing on its own. Yet in ‘The Roads we Ride’ there is a link between each song, as the whole performance continues through the album.
The tale starts to come to a conclusion, starting with ‘The Ballad of Johnny and Louise’. Brayshaw is a talented musician, and mixes up his guitar styles slightly here, switching to a deeper, darker tone before lifting to a howling blues climax.
The curtain closer leaves Johnny and Louise on the road, together, but alone, together but twisted. A love song, but also a tragedy. As throughout the album, ‘The Roads we Ride’ features the rusty, husky vocals contrasting with the clean, piercing guitar, melding blues, country and a bit of southern Americana into one big majestic show.
Tucked in at the end is a short reprise of ‘Storm Warning’, not so much as a finale, more as a precursor for what is to follow, as Bo hints: Finally, I like the continuity of themes in my work. There is a duality in this album, as there was across my previous ‘Moon Over Indigo’ and again will be in my next album ‘Ain’t No Man a Good Man’. For which we will have to wait until later this year to find out what happens next.
This album is a work of art in itself, and I hope I haven’t spoiled the imagery it can generate in the listener by sharing my take on the story, but the deeper you dig, the more treasure you will find.
Wily Bo Walker - Vocals
E D Brayshaw - Guitars, Instrumentation, Backing vocals
1 Storm Warning
2 I Want to Know
3 Motel Blues
4 Loan me a Dime
5 September Red
6 Killers on the Run
7 Running Wild
8 Night of the Hunter
9 Tennessee Blues
10 After the Storm
11 The Ballad of Johnny and Louise
12 The Roads we Ride
13 Storm Warning (reprise)