Little Walter, the master of the Hohner, was to the harmonica what Wayne Gretzky was to ice hockey, what Leonardo Da Vinci was to oil painting, what Mark Twain was to American literature, or what Donald Trump is to bullshit. Although Little Walter Jacobs died tragically in 1968 (he was beaten to death by winos in an alley), his legend and the popularity of his music has risen every year since his passing. His music has inspired thousands of younger harp players from around the world—including Billy Branch. Branch paid his dues in Chicago taverns, participating in weekly “head cutting” sessions with legendary harp men like James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Walter Horton (all of whom once played with Muddy Waters).
This material will be familiar to every blues fans, as it reads like Walter’s catalog: “Juke,” “Last Night,” “Nobody But You,” “Blues With A Feeling,” “You’re So Fine,” “Blues and Lonesome”— you get the picture. There are a few lesser-known Walter classics: “It’s Too Late Brother,” “Roller Coaster,” and the politically incorrect “Boom Boom Out Go The Lights.” Branch stays true to Walter’s unique style, which merely requires a doctorate in playing the harmonica. Branch is especially adept at playing the chromatic harp, which adds another dimension to the sound. The Sons of Blues do a good job, playing the songs properly and laying back far enough to let Branch’s star shine. Roots and Branches concludes with a short interview with Walter’s daughter, which gives us a window into Walter’s family life, a view few fans knew about. Granted, you can’t beat the originals, but Branch plays with tone and with confidence. This is an enjoyable tribute to the great Little Walter.