Tom Walbank is releasing his 18th full-length album on Tucson’s Lonesome Desert Records.
The English-bluesman recorded the CD, “Dust + Stone,” in the namesake studio of Tucson musician Gabriel Sullivan.
“I’ve had a desire to record with Gabriel for awhile,” said Walbank, the 47-year-old father of a young daughter. “I had heard good things about his recording studio and I played some harmonica on his album.”
Walbank and Sullivan struck a musical kinship on the project, which Walbank will celebrate at a CD release party Thursday, Jan. 5, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Sullivan also contributed percussion and guitar on the album.
“We draw from the same place musically — the blues,” Walbank said. “It’s nice having an engineer who knows references. ‘We’re going for a Jimmy Reed drum sound on this’ or ‘More of a Bo Diddley drum sound on this,’ and they can implement those techniques quickly.”
Walbank opens “Dust + Stone” with “Bittersweet Blues,” which borrows the lyrics from 1990s Brit-pop band The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and puts them in a blues blender. He looks back on his Delta blues days with a cover of “Ambassador Breakdown,” which he and his band The Ambassadors performed on a 2006 Arizona Public Media piece.
A much-feted harmonica player, Walbank turns to one of his mid-20th century heroes Sonny Boy Williamson on “Tamp It Down Solid.” Rather than borrow Williamson’s style, Walbank employs a tremolo harmonica to channel Williamson’s actual voice.
The album closes with instrumental tracks.
“In the last five years I have been very interested in the instrumental, which probably stems from my love of 1970s reggae and 1990s hip-hop beats,” not the lyrics so much but the soundscapes, he explained.
Most of the album was recorded live and there are few overdubs with the exception of Arthur Migliazza’s piano part in “You Got Trouble.” The former Tucsonan recorded it in a studio in his adopted New York City.
Walbank said he likes the album — a lot.
“It seems like I’ve done the songs justice,” he reflected, adding that he came up with many of the arrangements on the day he recorded the songs.
“I like to challenge myself when I record. A lot of times I will not think of an arrangement … and I will decide on the day of the recording. I put myself on the edge to test myself,” he said.
Walbank said he pushed the blues in directions he hadn’t imagined before “Dust + Stone,” drawing links and lines between blues and folk and rock and country and symphonic.
“It was really exploring where we can take us in the moment,” he said. “That’s the thing with recording; it’s a moment in time.”