The title of the great New Orleans guitarist and vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s latest release, My Future Is My Past, tells a lot about the philosophical tone of the album. Washington, who is most often heard leading his fully equipped band, the Roadmasters, or in a trio format with organist Joe Krown and drummer Russell Batiste, changes direction on this CD. He makes a detour, or almost a U-turn of sorts, by performing in a solo, trio or quartet setting with musicians primarily known on the jazz scene—pianist David Torkanowsky, bassist James Singleton, drummer Stanton Moore—rather than in the R&B, blues and funk world in which he’s been most visible.
Washington retains his late-into-the-night signature style on the opening number, Percy Mayfield’s “Lost My Mind.” In a very rare move, he presents it alone, accompanying himself simply on guitar. It’s among a number of well-chosen tunes on the album, including David Egan’s always-moving “Even Now.” Wolfman and Irma Thomas, who along with Johnny Adams had recorded the song, team up perfectly in the back-and-forth dialogue that is stylistically old-school New Orleans. It stands as an album highlight.
Another is Doc Pomus’ and Mac Rebennack’s “She’s Everything to Me,” which Washington enriches with his unique falsetto. As is typical, he thoughtfully takes his time with every note, every word. It’s somewhat rare to hear funkster organist, guest Ivan Neville play so serenely and minimally while Mike Dillon offers a few, well-placed notes with his marimba. Washington does present a guitar solo here, though, like on most of the cuts, he keeps it short and simple. Working even “closer to home,” Wolfman embarks on Naomi Neville’s (Allen Toussaint’s) “I Cried My Last Tear” with Jon Cleary ably manning the piano. Again, when Washington goes up for those high notes, he just kills. On this cut, he does take the opportunity to stretch out on a guitar solo.
The album appropriately concludes with a Washington original, “Are You the Lady,” backed by the big-eared trio of Torkanowsky, Singleton and Moore. It alone might provoke the question as to whether My Future Is My Past is a jazz album. It certainly has those leanings but then when it comes down to it, Washington’s style has always hinted at that—after all he and jazz share a birthplace.