Blues Rock Veteran Walter Trout Continues to Shine on New Album

Great authentic blues is about the deepest lows and the highest highs life can throw at you. That’s exactly what Walter Trout delivers on his new album Ride, released on August 19 – and boy, what a great ride it is! I’ve really come to dig this man since he entered my radar screen about three and a half years ago, especially after seeing him at Iridium in New York City in April 2019.

Having encountered many demons, the now 71-year-old blues rock veteran has plenty of fodder to write about. From a childhood with an abusive father to alcohol and drug dependence to a near-death experience when his liver was failing and he needed a liver transplant to a gruesome ensuing recovery, Trout has seen it all over a 50-year-plus career.

Outside of blues rock circles, Trout may not be exactly a household name like Stevie Ray Vaughan used to be back in the ‘80s. But this doesn’t make him any less compelling. Plus, sadly, SVR, perhaps the best modern blues guitarist I can think of, has been gone for more than 30 years. Trout managed to turn his life around and is still standing. He has been sober since 1987. Aptly, he called his 2019 blues covers album Survivor Blues. I reviewed it here at the time.

Ride is Trout’s 30th studio album. It’s safe to assume you won’t find many other artists who reach that milestone, especially not from Trout’s generation. But what really amazes me is how much fire in the belly he continues to have. And how much Trout still has to say. Outside his music, this includes his passionate advocacy for organ donations. He likes to remind people that had it not been for a donated liver he received in May 2014, he wouldn’t be alive today.

Let’s take a closer look at some music. Here’s the opener Ghosts, which also became the album’s lead single on April 15. “It starts off with the lyric, ‘Sometimes I hear a familiar song and it brings back memories’ – that’s the truth,” Trout said in a statement, as reported by Guitar World. “I’ll be riding in my car, a song comes on the radio and I have to pull over and sob for a while. Ghosts sums this album up, y’know?”

On the title track, Trout takes a break from blues rock and embraces more of a southern rock sound. In fact, I have to agree with a review in Rock & Blues Muse, which notes the song’s Allman Brothers vibe. After reading this, I can totally picture the type of twin lead guitar fill-ins the Allmans excelled at. Also, I suspect the theme of just wanting to jump on a train appeals to many folks who like to get away from any troublesome situations. Check out this beauty!

Another highlight is Waiting For the Dawn, the second single that appeared ahead of the album on August 12. “There were times in this pandemic where I have sunk into some pretty deep depressions, sitting around, wondering whether life has a point,” Trout recalled, as noted in this piece by Rock N’ Load. Somewhere else (sadly, I’m blanking on the source) I read this slow blues is reminiscent of Gary Moore – good observation!

Perhaps Trout’s most personal song on the album is Hey Mama. Rock & Blues Muse observes it’s “an interior debate about why his mother didn’t do more to protect him from the horrific abuse inflicted upon him by his war-broken stepfather.” Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics: Hey mama, can you hear me?/I’m frightened and I’m blue/mama, can you help me?/You know I’m still counting on you…This is powerful stuff I would compare with John Lennon’s Mother.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the closer Destiny, a beautiful love ballad that stands in marked contrast to the other tracks on the album and their pretty bleak lyrics. An excerpt: On the night I met you/I saw a connection in your eyes/And I felt like you’d been sent to me/And then I realized that I felt in my heart I’ve known you long before/And it wouldn’t be lonely anymore/It was meant to be, you and me, destiny… Also, check out that great soothing guitar sound!

Trout who now lives in Denmark recorded the album back in Los Angeles with his current regular band: Teddy “Zig Zag” Andrealis (keyboards), Jamie Hunting (bass) and Michael Leasure (drums). “No star cameos,” he told Rock & Blues Muse. “Strictly me and my band. The only guest was my tour manager, Anthony Grisham, who plays rhythm guitar on “Leave It All Behind.”

Appearing on Provogue/Mascot, Ride was produced by L.A.-based Canadian, producer, engineer and singer/songwriter Eric Corne. Additional recording credits noted in his online bio include John Mayall, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Healy, Michelle Shocked and Nancy Wilson (Heart), among others.

Here’s a Spotify link to Ride, an album I can highly recommend:

Walter Trout is currently on the road in Europe and will play 15 dates in the U.S. in September before playing Europe again in October and November. He’s closing out the year with a few dates in California. The full schedule is here. If you’re into blues rock, catch him while you can – no pun intended!

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; Rock & Blues Muse; Rock N’ Load; Walter Trout website; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This is the fifth installment of Best of What’s New. I’m starting to think this may become a weekly feature, which would make me happy and frankly is something I had not expected when I introduced it five weeks ago. Unlike the previous times, this installment mostly features new releases by well-established artists from Bob Dylan to Mavis Staples. Perhaps not surprisingly, four of the songs were released because of COVID-19, though three were written pre-pandemic. In one case, the lyrics were slightly tweaked, so the tune better fits the current situation. Let’s get to it!

Bob Dylan/I Contain Multitudes

What’s up with Robert Zimmerman? Last Friday, he released his second new song in three weeks. I Contain Multitudes, which took its title from the Walt Whitman poem Song of Myself, comes on the heels of the 17-minute Murder Most Foul centering on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. While as a more casual Dylan listener, I would not dare to try and figure out what’s going on in his head, releasing a song about a traumatic event in 1963, followed by a tune with cheerful lines like The flowers are dyin’ like all things do or I sleep with life and death in the same bed doesn’t strike me as a coincidence during a global pandemic. It is also likely to fuel hope among Dylan fans that a new album may be in the making, though in perhaps typical fashion Mr. Zimmerman hasn’t made any comments in this regard.

Alicia Keys/Good Job

Earlier this week, I had caught a CNN announcement that Alicia Keys was going to debut a new song on the cable news channel last night. And she did: Good Job. While Keys recorded the powerful ballad last year for her next album ALICIA, the lyrics are a beautiful fit to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all folks who look after the sick and keep the country going during the pandemic, oftentimes by risking their own lives. The tune was co-written by Keys, her husband and producer Swizz Beatz, singer-songwriter The-Dream and songwriter, composer and producer Avery Chambliss. “Whether you’re on the frontlines at the hospitals, balancing work, family and homeschool teaching, delivering mail, packages, or food, or facing other personal difficulties because of COVID-19, I feel you. You are seen, loved and deeply appreciated,” said Keys. While I don’t necessarily dig each and every song by Keys, I believe she has an incredible voice and is a powerful performer. She also comes across as very genuine to me.

The Rolling Stones/Living in a Ghost Town

I’d like to give a shoutout to Hanspostcard who first brought this new tune by The Rolling Stones to my attention yesterday on his Slicethelife blog. Similar to Alicia Keys, Mick Jagger wrote Living in a Ghost Town prior to COVID-19. As reported by Rolling Stone, it’s the band’s first new original tune since their 2012 compilation GRRR!, which featured two new tracks, Doom and Gloom and One More Shot. To make it a better fit for the current situation, Jagger had to tweak some of the lyrics. The Rolling Stone story quoted him from an interview with Apple Music: “Keith Richards and I both had the idea that we should release it,” he said. “But I said, ‘Well I’ve got to rewrite it.’ Some of it is not going to work and some of it was a bit weird and a bit too dark. So I slightly rewrote it. I didn’t have to rewrite very much, to be honest. It’s very much how I originally did it.” The Rolling Stone piece also included this quote by Richards: “We’ve got another five or six tracks and there’s a lot of sort of soul feel about it for some reason without anybody intending to,” Richards said. “Obviously right now we’ve got nothing else to do but write some more songs, right?” Could this finally be a new Stones album, which has been rumored for some time?

Cowboy Junkies/Misery

I think the only time I had heard of this Canadian band, which Wikipedia classifies as alternative country and folk rock, was in the late ’80s – probably in connection with their sophomore album The Trinity Session from November 1988, which looks like their most successful release. It included a cover of Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane, which became their highest-charting single the U.S., peaking at no. 5 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Well, it turns out Cowboy Junkies are still active, and on March 30, 2020, they released their latest album Ghosts. Three of their founding members, Margo Timmins (vocals), Michael Timmins (guitar, ukulele) and Peter Timmins (drums, percussion) – are siblings, and the album’s eight tracks are all related to the death of their mother Barbara, who passed away in 2018. The fourth member, Alan Anton (bass, keyboards), has also been part of the band since its formation in Toronto in 1985. I’ve listened to some of the album’s songs and like what I’ve heard so far. Here is Misery.

Ron Sexsmith/Dig Nation

Ron Sexsmith, a singer-songwriter from St. Catharines, Canada, is an artist I had not heard of before. According to Wikipedia, he has been a performing musician since 1978 and began releasing his own music in 1985. To date, he has issued 16 studio albums, the most recent of which is Hermitage that came out on April 17. Here’s Dig Nation. Really like the warm sound of that tune. And it’s quite catchy, too. Check it out!

Mavis Staples/All In It Together

Mavis Staples, who started her career in 1950 at the age of 11 as part of her family band The Staple Singers, needs no lengthy introduction. Since 1969, she has also performed as a solo artist and has released 14 solo albums to date. The most recent one, We Get By, came out in May 2019. The single All In It Together, which was released on April 2, 2020, is a collaboration with singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy who is best known as the vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco. “The song speaks to what we’re going through now – everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” Staples said in a statement, as reported by Rolling Stone. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…it can still touch you…We will get through this but, we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.” According to Staples’ website, proceeds from the song will be donated to My Block, My Hood, My City – a Chicago organization ensuring seniors have access to the essentials needed to fight COVID-19. Staples and Tweedy’s vocals nicely blend in this blues-oriented rock tune. I also like Tweedy’s slide guitar work.

Steve Forbert/Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues

Here’s another great new tune by a long-time artist I mostly know by name, and this needs to change: Steve Forbert. Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues is the lead single from Forbet’s covers album Early Morning Rain, which is set to come out next Friday, May 1. “I wish I could release this record as a magic wand, in order to renew people’s appreciation for the fine craftsmanship these songs represent,” Forbert writes on his website. “Early Morning Rain contains 11 of my favorites, with only one written later than 1973.” Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues was written by Danny O’Keefe who also first recorded the song in 1967 but did not release it at the time. Instead, it was a band named The Bards who first put out the tune in 1968 as a b-side to a single. O’Keefe first included the song on his eponymous debut album from 1970. A re-recorded version was released as a single in August 1972 and became his best-known song. “I think ‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues’ will be really good to put out there right now,” Forbert told American Songwriter. “I’ve always had a kinship with this song.”

Jeff Beck & Johnny Depp/Isolation

While multi-talent Johnny Depp certainly is not a newcomer to music and has played with the likes of Joe Perry and Alice Cooper, teaming up with guitar legend Jeff Beck is intriguing. The first outcome of their collaboration is a great cover of the John Lennon tune Isolation, which appeared last Friday, April 16. Lennon included the song on his first official solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band from December 1970. According to a statement on Beck’s website, The musical soulmates have been working behind-the-scenes for the past few several years on new music. “Isolation” finds Beck in classic form on guitar with Depp on vocals, joined by long-time Beck collaborators Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Rhonda Smith on bass…“Johnny and I have been working on music together for a while now and we recorded this track during our time in the studio last year. We weren’t expecting to release it so soon but given all the hard days and true ‘isolation’ that people are going through in these challenging times, we decided now might be the right time to let you all hear it,” says Beck. “You’ll be hearing more from Johnny and me in a little while but until then we hope you find some comfort and solidarity in our take on this Lennon classic.” Johnny Depp adds, “…Lennon’s poetry – ‘We’re afraid of everyone. Afraid of the Sun!’ – seemed to Jeff and me especially profound right now, this song about isolation, fear, and existential risks to our world. So we wanted to give it to you, and hope it helps you make sense of the moment or just helps you pass the time as we endure isolation together.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Mavis Staples website; Steve Forbert website; American Songwriter; Jeff Beck website; YouTube