Once in a great while an artist’s voice grabs you after just a couple of seconds. Bradley Walker just may have the finest male bluegrass voice, ever.
Born with muscular dystrophy and wheelchair-bound since birth, disability hasn’t slowed down Walker one jot. Since his first brush with the concert stage, singing with the Oak Ridge boys at the ripe old age of three, it was clear that music would be his life’s avocation. Early in his career, Walker sang in country bands, but upon hearing J.D. Crowe and the New South, he began to focus on bluegrass. Soon he was attending festivals and singing with bluegrass heavyweights, many of whom contributed to this debut release. Background singers on Highway of Dreams include Vince Gill, Alecia Nugent, Jerry Salley, Rhonda Vincent and IIIrd Tyme Out’s Russell Moore. The album’s instrumentalists are equally impressive and include Ron Block (banjo), Aubrey Haynie and Jim Van Cleve (fiddle), Clay Hess (guitar), Rob Ickes and Randy Kohrs (dobro), and Adam Steffey (mandolin). Produced by Carl Jackson (who also contributed four of the 12 songs,) Highway of Dreams ranks as one of the best debut releases from any young singer in bluegrass, country, or pop.
What makes Walker so special? First, his baritone has just the right tone – not too dark, not too light. And his phrasing sounds so natural. If you’ve ever sang, you know that every phrase can be delivered in a number of ways. Walker manages to choose the way that works for maximum impact and musicality. Take the Larry Cordle classic “When I’m Hurtin’.” Walker captures the swing and sentiment of the song so perfectly that we may never again be completely happy with anyone else’s version!
I could continue, but I’ll spare you. If you’re into bluegrass, this disc will slay you completely. It’s simply a must-have.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Mar. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.