Review by Neko Johnson
Austin Walkin’ Cane may not be a household name for many, yet his musical journey and authentic blues prowess deserve recognition. A brief introduction to this 53-year-old Cleveland native is in order for those unacquainted with his music.
Austin Charanghat, under the stage name Austin Walkin’ Cane, adeptly crafts traditional blues, both electric and acoustic, sharing his artistry worldwide. His blues journey began in 1984, and the moniker ‘Walkin’ Cane’ was no manufactured persona but stemmed from a genuine occurrence.
Born with a malformation, Austin walked with a cane for years. It was on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, during this time, that a homeless man shouted, “Hey Walkin’ Cane, got some spare change for a brother?” Austin embraced this as his nickname. Despite a leg amputation below the knee at the age of 26, he returned to performances, releasing albums like ‘Help Yourself’ (1996) and ‘Radio Cafe’ (2001). He continues under this moniker, transcending the physical need for a cane.
Let’s delve into this album. Initially released in 2008, this album, Austin’s fourth, was originally available exclusively from the artist. Garnering well-deserved recognition, the album received an international release on October 20th via Hoboville Records. The album’s backstory is fascinating.
Titled in reference to the speculated circumstances surrounding the demise of blues legend Robert Johnson, stepfather to Robert Jr. Lockwood, this album is inspired by an after-dinner conversation with Lockwood. Lockwood was set to feature on the album but sadly passed away in 2006 at 91. The album emerged from two recording sessions—one electric, featuring Mike Barrick on bass, Michael Bay on guitar, and Jim Wall on drums; the other acoustic—both masterfully represented across this ten-track, 43-minute release.
The album unfolds with “High Rent Lemon Girl, Aren’t Ya,” a Delta-style blues. With metaphorical taps of his cane, Austin invokes the heavens, expressing his desires through poignant guitar strokes. In “Murder of a Blues Singer,” he narrates a version of Robert Johnson’s fate, accompanied by electric blues that perfectly echo the tragic tale.
“Devil’s Backbone” drives us down the Natchez Trace, courtesy of a driving bass and extensive lead guitar. “Step It Up & Go” maintains the upbeat momentum with a delightful harmonica and a lively rhythm. Austin treats us to an acoustic rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” adorned with soulful harmonica, a delightful tribute to the original Delta blues.
“Georgia Moon” rocks us back into motion, merging captivating guitar work and exceptional harmonica. In “Graveyard Town,” Austin excels on slide guitar, capturing a haunting atmosphere. “Hold On the Night” propels us into a rhythmic blues train ride, rich with fervor and exceptional guitar play.
“Late Great Singer,” a ballad penned by Chris Allen of Rosavelt, echoes a lament for unfulfilled dreams. The album concludes with a powerful rendition of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” featuring a Cleveland gospel choir, The Prayer Warriors, in a hauntingly atmospheric blues classic.
This album is a hidden gem. As a blues enthusiast, I stumbled upon this artist and album. For fellow aficionados seeking authentic blues, Austin Walkin’ Cane’s electrifying blend of electric and acoustic blues, performed by highly skilled musicians, demands your attention. After this introduction, exploring his nine-album catalogue, starting with ‘Muscle Shoals,’ seems essential. For fiery, spirited, and authentic blues, delve into Austin Walkin’ Cane’s musical realm—you won’t be disappointed.