Charles Walker is a musician in search of a genre.
"This CD strays more from the blues," says Walker, 32. "It's more restless and more political."
This Friday, Nov. 27, at the Brink Lounge, the Charles Walker Band will celebrate the release of a fourth album. Used and Defiant is the next step in the evolution of this five-piece band, whose members live in Madison and Milwaukee.
"When I write songs I try to reflect on life," says Walker. "Life isn't always about the party or about a breakup. Our new songs are heavy on R&B and funk because they give us more lyrical room and they have the kind of energy our younger audience wants to see."
That's clear from the opening rant of the title track: "When I was born, MLK lost his life. As a baby, daddy took a different wife. I was so confused. We couldn't get health care. Mama sat and cried. Her work didn't get us nowhere."
There's an urgency to Used and Defiant that's built on the intensity of Walker's tenor saxophone jams. It's also built on the swagger of Shanna Jackson's passionate vocals.
The members of the Charles Walker Blues Band who live in Madison include Kent Hamele, the bass player who has played with Paul Filipowicz. Then there's Walker's drummer, Joey B. Banks, who has previously backed the guitar work of Jim Schwall.
Walker grew up in Portage and attended UW-Eau Claire, where he studied jazz. He moved to Milwaukee in 2003 to be part of a bigger music scene. That decision, he says, has yielded uneven results.
"Milwaukee is really a cover-band city," says Walker. "A lot of the people who come out to shows want to hear jukebox."
But Walker also credits Milwaukee with edging his band toward funk. "There are a lot of R&B influences here," he adds.
Still, the ambitions of Walker's band have them gigging regularly beyond the Brew City borders. In the Madison area, their itinerary includes the Harmony Bar on Atwood, the Hody Bar in Middleton and the Brink.
"I'm a high school English teacher by day," says Walker. "It's hard to wear both hats. The band has been playing a lot, and the members want to travel more. We've been going to cities like Chicago and Indianapolis, and I do our booking."
Despite those challenges, Walker remains energized by his band's latest direction. "My favorite song off the new album is 'Life Is Now.' I like the feel of it, and I like the lyrics." On that song, Walker's bittersweet sax accompanies words about coping with life's limits. "You may wish for better days, but you better not wish your life away," sings Shanna Jackson.
Used and Defiant finds the Charles Walker Band seizing their own day. "We have a lot of people come up to us at our shows," says Walker. "They say, 'I don't usually like blues, but this is different. I don't know what it is, but I like it.'"