“Crank It Up” – Billy Walton Band

4 stars (out of 5)

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If you’re a regular visitor to MusicRiot, you may have noticed that we’re keeping a close eye on the Billy Walton Band here at Riot Towers.  There’s a simple reason for that; they’re very good.

“Crank It Up!” is the fourth album from the Billy Walton Band, following 2 studio albums and a live set recorded at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park.  Billy Walton and bass player William Paris have been together from the start, playing alongside various studio and live players to bring the Billy Walton Band to the world.

First of all, if you haven’t read any reviews of the Billy Walton Band live, you need to know that Billy Walton is a great guitar player.  The first 2 studio albums (“Billy Walton Band” and “Neon City”) tended to focus on the guitar playing, although the songs “Neon City” and “Soul Song” on the second album also show a genuine songwriting talent emerging.

For the third studio album, there are a couple of crucial differences to the mix.  First of all, Billy Walton is writing with keyboard player Randy Friel who also plays on the album.  Secondly, the band is also joined by tenor sax player Richie Taz but more about that later.

Conventional wisdom says that you open the album with a big track and the title track “Crank It Up” covers that one from the opening riff.  It’s a big good-time song featuring a horn section and it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on either of the first two albums.  You could probably say the same for the second track “Lifeline” where the intro gives a brief nod in the direction of Keith Richards and features the first low-key contribution from Richie Taz.  Both tracks are good, but they only give a taste of the quality to come.

“Summertime Girl” feels like Springsteen’s Jersey shore twenty years down the line, and an arrangement which features piano and organ accentuates the E Street Band feel of the song.  If this song was on a Bon Jovi or Springsteen album it would be a Top 40 single. “The Deal Went Down”, later on the album, has the same personal Jersey feel with a nod in the direction of The Boss’s “Spirit in the Night” and more great sax from  Richie Taz.

“Deal with the Devil” is a country blues which again demonstrates Billy’s versatility, featuring acoustic guitar, where he rejects the bargain that Robert Johnson made. “Till Tomorrow” is another song which is strong lyrically, features great horns in the chorus, plenty of hooks and a lovely understated guitar solo leading to the fadeout. “One in a Million” and “Hot Blues” are both firmly back in blues territory, taking the album full circle back to the rock-out ending of “Black Jack Dealer” featuring a vocal from William Paris.

By any standards, this is a good album which you really should be listening to if you like real songs and real instruments.  It’s an important step for the Billy Walton Band because the playing is as good as ever but the songs here are better and more personal than on the previous 2 studio albums and the band line-up and arrangements seem to work together much better.

You can get a copy at www.billywaltonband.com or, even better, go watch the band live when they tour the UK in April and buy a copy there; a great night out and a great album to take home with you.  What more could you want?