Click to hear: “Travelin’ Bone”
Here’s one of those “don’t judge a CD by its cover” albums.
When It Takes a Toll crossed my desk, I figured it was another in the seemingly endless stream of unremarkable singer-songwriter releases watering down the musical landscape. I didn’t know who Justin S. Walton is, and the simple cover of his self-released CD didn’t spark my curiosity. Must have been a slow day, because I unwrapped it and gave it a spin.
I’m sure glad I did.
Toll is an entertaining collection of 19 songs that, remarkably, manages to engage your ear for almost an entire hour. The loping country rocker “Travelin’ Bone” starts things off and wins you over right away with its catchy chorus. This is followed by a mostly instrumental pop-prog song (“Sad Affair”) and a slinky groover called “Flopper” that sports a sax solo.
Walton’s got a Rolodex worth of musical styles and ideas at his fingertips. He flips through rock, funk, pop, psych, jazz and R&B like you flip through radio stations on a car trip out of state, usually employing at least two genres per song. He sings in an unremarkable but companionable voice, and plays everything (guitar, bass, drums, keys and sax) quite well. There are no other musicians on these recordings.
The range and quantity of the songs here calls to mind Jack Logan’s 1994 album Bulk, though their qualities are much Phishier. Fans of Dreadnaught, the power-prog trio Walton’s been in for the last 15 years or so, know he’s capable of a feat like this. I didn’t.
Color me impressed as hell.
— Chris Busby
Justin Walton plays Sat., Jan. 7, at Andy’s Old Port Pub, 94 Commercial St., Portland, at 8:30 p.m. No cover (21+). See justinwalton.com for more info.