Walter Trout

2020

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One thing you can’t say about Walter Trout is that he’s a slouch; that definitely wouldn’t hold up in court. The fresh studio albums keep coming; it might have been expected that after last year’s excellent and Blues chart-topping album, ‘Survivor Blues’, that he might have rested on his laurels, especially after his well-documented illness of recent years. However, having been given a new lease of life, he is certainly making the most of it. The recording was completed just before the Covid-19 pandemic closed normal life down. The guitarist has referred to the current situation as a lot of extraordinary madness going on. What started out, as songs dealing with the guitarist’s own flaws and weaknesses ended up having a universal application.

While lyrics are important to a songwriter as expressing their view of the world, and clearly drive the impetus to create music in the first place, it’s the sounds that this listener is more interested in (but does also appreciate the heartfelt lyrical content here, which give the songs some real weight). With that in mind I can report that the musical content is excellent. The album has an interesting audio range. Long-time producer Eric Corne has done a great job. The sound is sort of down the bottom end of the spectrum with the top end knocked off; there’s clarity but none of that brittle sharp sound that you get with a lot of modern recording. The drums and bass sit nicely together, tight as a nut, allowing the layered guitars and superb keyboard work from Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis to sit on top like the icing on a cake.

The opening and title track opens with some electronic sounds courtesy of son Jon Trout, which give way to a lazy drum beat, followed by reverberating electric piano, the hypnotically soothing sound you recall from the Doors’ ‘Rider on the Storm’. Not unexpected maybe when you find out that the album was recorded in the private LA studio of Robby Krieger, with Ray Manzarek’s original keyboard sat in the corner. The vibe has definitely rubbed off. It’s a bit like commenting that the Pope has a balcony, to note that the guitarist can play a bit, but it has to be said that his playing is stunning throughout. Apparently, the veteran guitarist broke his pinkie three times in the past year (to paraphrase Oscar, breaking a finger once is unlucky, twice looks like carelessness and three times is taking clumsiness to new levels), which presented a challenge when recording, but clearly gave the soloing an extra edge.

His guitar playing is exceptional fluid and lyrical; solos flow with a soaring dynamism, never descending into those mindless forays up and down the scales that you get sometimes with a few players (well, a lot actually). The solo on ‘Ordinary Madness’ is a gem. Elsewhere, there’s a real power in some of these songs, alongside the almost ambient flow of some cuts; ‘Wanna Dance’ is full of strident chords, played up high on the neck and full on vocals (it should be noted that Walter is in fine, powerful voice throughout) with lyrics (I do listen to them sometimes) that could be the Trout mantra “When I hear the music, it cuts so deep, it lives inside me, in my sweet dreams when I sleep”.

‘My Foolish Pride’ takes it back down, a jangling slower number, featuring an echo of the organ from ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ in the intro and some very nice piano during the verses. A lovely solo on this. ‘Heartland’ picks up the pace with those familiar chords from ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ (Em-G-A-G for bedroom pickers). This has fab dynamics, full on with those chords making you bob your head like an idiot, followed by quite passages (an accordion sound makes a brief appearance at one stage) and back into it with some superb backing vocals, soloing to knock yer socks off and some delightful descending unison guitar phrases to bring matters to a conclusion.

‘All Out of Tears’ is a stonking classic Blues in the modern fold, with the guitar playing set to awesome. It goes on like this, 11 tracks, each with something different to offer (‘The Sun is Going Down’ is exceptional, kicking off with multi-layered vocals before heading into the song, which features a change of pace two thirds through and goes a bit Prog Rock. Superb!). It’s a real achievement to be still improving after all these years (and writing songs like ‘Up Above My Sky’, another classic cut here). This is another excellent album and another contender for Blues recording of the year; I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

Simon Green