Recorded in Philadelphia, Dark Hour is the fifth addition to the Billy Walton Band album catalog. With the help of a core group of six musicians, Walton composes a twelve-song set that ranges from crunchy rock to blues expositions with a few touches of funk and soul thrown in for good measure. The set focuses around Walton’s writing, playing and singing, but the experienced frontman knows well enough not to waste a crew of talented veterans by monopolizing the mix.
Walton’s guitar playing takes center stage for much of the album. Through his ingenuity and technical prowess, he uses the instrument to simultaneously be the creative force behind several of the tracks and a vehicle for the more extended instrumental passages. Speedy aggressive guitar riffs and solos are often followed by laidback, bluesy sections.
Dark Hour opens with “Think of Me” and “Long Slow Descent,” two similar, straightforward rockers featuring Walton’s coarse but well enunciated vocals. They are both quality tunes and sensible choices to start the proceedings considering the comparatively small contributions from the supporting cast. However, the following, “Can’t Love No One,” is a bit more interesting with its slowed tempo and bluesy tones, due in large part to Eric Safka’s Hammond organ additions.
The band follows with “You Don’t Need Me”—perhaps the best song on the album and easily the most ambitious. The first half alternates between acoustic verses and full-throated, punching choruses before morphing into a lyrically played guitar showcase, and finishing with a piano outro that sounds as if it’s coming from underwater. Continuing the trend of involving more of the band members’ abilities are “Long Way Down,” which relies heavily on Safka’s keys and “Confusion,” which begins with a prominent and distinct sounding drum cadence courtesy of Shane Luckenbaugh.
Another album standout is “Goldmine.” Based upon the best riff of the set, the rapid fire guitar work splits time with clever lines like, “Blew up like a landmine, turned into a goldmine, sweeter than a fine wine.” Whereas “Confusion” might have overstayed its welcome, “Goldmine” leaves listeners wanting a bit more of it, but these are small complaints.
The collection wraps up with two other standout tracks, a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” and “People Talking.” The former is an apt choice for a player like Walton. He handles it perfectly. The latter is a song that builds upon a chord progression and groove that witness the band at their best. One of the hardest rocking and also one of the best tracks of Dark Hour, it has a similar feel to “Think of Me,” only of better quality and with more band involvement.
Add in other numbers that mix in solid horn work by Tom Petraccaro and Bruce Krywinski Jr., and the result is a well rounded, if not ground-breaking effort by the Billy Walton Band. Points are given for a willingness to experiment with a few different genres even if the strongest songs happen to be rock oriented. It deserves several spins not only for the excellent individual playing—listeners will also find that several of the songs are great as standalone compositions.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– You Don’t Need Me
– Cortez The Killer
– People Talking
The Big Hit
– You Don’t Need Me