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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John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 14

Time again to go on some music time travel. For a change, this latest installment of my long-running music history feature around a specific date is skewed toward the ’80s. Usually, my favorite music decades the ’60s and ’70s rule these posts. Given it’s Valentine’s Day, I actually tried to discover a romantic song that was released on February 14, which I thought would be easy-peasy – well, not so. The closest I could find was an album that has various love songs. It’s part of the reason this post is more ’80s-focused.

1964: British beat group The Dave Clark Five released Bits and Pieces in the UK, the second single from their debut album Glad All Over. While it couldn’t quite match the chart success of the record’s title track that had knocked The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand off the top spot in the UK, the tune came pretty close, climbing to no. 2. Officially, Bits and Pieces was credited to the band’s leader, manager and drummer Dave Clark and lead vocalist and keyboarder Mike Smith, though British singer-songwriter Ron Ryan claimed he actually had penned the tune. Bits and Pieces also became a U.S. single on March 20 that year, peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In this case, it beat Glad All Over, which had reached no. 6.

1970: Sly & The Family Stone hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). Yes, the words in parentheses are actually written that way. According to Wikipedia, it’s an intentional so-called “sensational spelling” for “thank you for letting me be myself again.” Written by Sly Stone, this great funk tune was part of a double-A single with Everybody Is a Star. Both songs had been intended for a studio album that was subsequently canned. Instead, the tunes ended up on the compilation Greatest Hits that appeared in November of the same year. Thank You was ranked at no. 410 on Rolling Stone’s December 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. That’s one hot funky tune!

1980: Heart released their fifth studio album Bébé le Strange, which became their highest charting on the U.S. Billboard 200 at the time, climbing to no. 4. Here’s the title track co-written by Heart co-founders Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher, together with Sue Ennis, a frequent collaborator. By the time the album came out, Fisher had departed. Bébé le Strange also became the record’s second single but missed the Billboard Hot 100. Heart’s biggest chart success with their eponymous eighth studio album and the smash hit These Dreams was still five years away. I only know a handful of Heart’s songs and had not been familiar with this tune.

1985: Whitney Houston’s eponymous debut album appeared. After an initial slow response, the album started to get traction in the summer of that year and eventually topped the Billboard 200 for 14 weeks in 1986. It spawned various singles, including three no. 1 hits. Here’s one of them: Saving All My Love for You, co-written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin. While musically it’s a typical ’80s ballad, Houston’s vocals were just extraordinary. Plus, it’s a fitting tune for all the love birds celebrating today.

1987: Undoubtedly, some eyes are going to roll on this one. New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Livin’ on a Prayer, their second chart-topper in the U.S. Co-written by frontman and lead vocalist Jon Bon Jovi, then-lead guitarist Richie Sambora and songwriter Desmond Child, Livin’ on a Prayer appeared on the band’s third studio album Slippery When Wet. It became an instant success in the U.S. and internationally and remains Bon Jovi’s best-selling album to date. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I think the band has some great songs. Okay, I have to say I much prefer how Jon Bon Jovi looks nowadays. But, hey, it was the hairy ’80s ! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Rock; YouTube