I really enjoy giving local musicians ink whenever I can, so this week’s column is dedicated to Justin S. Walton, who will be celebrating the release of his second solo album on May 18 with a show at Slates in Hallowell. Walton’s day job is as a teacher of K-5 music and Middle School Jazz Band in Gardiner (SAD 11) but he’s also an accomplished musician in his own right, as a member of the Portsmouth, N.H.-based band Dreadnaught, as well as playing solo gigs throughout Maine. I recently reached him at his South Gardiner home to chat about the music he makes and especially about the show coming up in Hallowell Monday night.

Q: I’ll tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard quite as much diversity on one album as there is on your first solo CD, “It Takes a Toll,” which came out in 2011.

Walton: Well, thanks a lot, man, I appreciate that. I like to mix it up a little.

Q: I suppose that keeps you from getting bored with one style of music.

Walton: Absolutely! Yup, and the new one, ” Blood From A Stone,” is a similar kind of thing, it’s just a few years along so I think it’s growing.

Q: Now, you writing process has got me, not stumped but inquisitive: Does each thought you have for a song work into its own style?

Walton: Well, it just kind of comes about normally either in my head or on the guitar first — because that’s my primary instrument or sometimes piano — and as I go along and record it fleshes itself out.

Q: This performance you have coming up at Slates, is it going to be a mixture of material from your first and your soon-to-be-released albums?

Walton: Yeah, it’s going to be all of the new one — the whole record — and probably a handful from the previous record, “It Takes a Toll.”

Q: When you record these solo albums you play all of the parts. When you perform the same material live do you have backing musicians or do you use looping techniques?

Walton: Well, at this show…this show is going to be a very unique experience because I perform a lot by myself all over the state — I’m out every week playing — and I’ll do this material. But as you know from listening to the record, it’s really a full rock band that you’re hearing on the album that I’ve created myself. But for this show I’m employing some great players to do the whole thing.

Q: Oh!

Walton: So I’ve got Josh Robbins on bass and Lance Burpee on drums…I’ve been playing with these guys for quite a while. We play every month at the Liberal Cup in Hallowell as The Sump Pumps. It’s a fun thing, we do covers at that as well as our own stuff, but we try to do stuff that you don’t hear a lot on the radio.

Q: For instance?

Walton: Like we’ll do The Animals, we’ll do Waylon Jennings, we’ll do David Bowie — we’re all over the place. So those guys are going to play this gig with me to realize this music, and we also have Justin Maxwell on the keys because there’s lots of piano on the new one in particular. I think a little more than on “It Takes a Toll.”

Q: So when you play solo normally you do looping like Keller Williams?

Walton: Yeah, I do a looper and I’m kind of basic with that. When I’m performing solo I’ll sing the songs and I’ll be laying down the changes as I sing and then when it’s time to rip the lead, I will have had to have recorded the right part previous so I can play solos over the changes. It’s really easy when you’re doing a jazz standard — I do a lot of those — because you can play the changes and then the whole form plays back and you can just improvise over that. That’s one of my favorite things to do is to improvise over changes.

Q: How long have you been doing this?

Walton: I’ve been playing in clubs for probably 24 years or something. I mean, I grew up in Portland and I was playing when I was a teenager and I’ve played in Dreadnaught now for almost 20 years —w e’ve played all over the country and our albums have been enjoyed by listeners worldwide — but I’ve always written my own music and recorded a ton of records particularly with Dreadnaught, we’ve put out a lot of discs. The solo thing — performing by myself — I only got into maybe seven or eight years ago, I think, and I bought the looping device around that time because it gives me a certain freedom. I love to play solo and do whatever I want.

Q: Now, have you performed at Slates before?

Walton: I did. I actually performed there about a year ago with Val Bennett, she was doing a show there and I was a guitarist in her band for that.

Q: Ah, so this will be your debut as a solo act, then.

Walton: That’s right, yup. And it’s kind of a special event because it’s the CD release and that’s what it’s really mostly about: I’m performing these songs with full arrangements, not just me alone but with a bunch of great players to make it come to life.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article about this show in Hallowell?

Walton: Well, just that I hope they will join us. It’s going to be a really fun night. And as I said before, it’s going to be kind of a unique night. Folks who are used to seeing me do this stuff on my own will see it more fleshed out: we’ve got some great players. It’s always a privilege to play with guys like Josh and with Lance and Justin, so I thank them for doing it and it’s going to be a unique time. (www.justinwalton.com)

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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