Provogue [release date 02.06.14]
The thing that distinguishes Walter Trout from his peers isn’t just his big tone, his passionate solos, his stagecraft or his distinguished career in the blues-rock field, but simply the fact he’s always searched for meaning in the core of his songs.
Whether he has a story to tell, the need to express his personal emotions or indeed simply give vent to his views on the world, Trout has always tried to pen meaningful songs and deep blues.
And it’s that framework that dominates this album, from the heart rendering opener ‘Wastin’ Away’ to the equally emotionally charged ‘The Bottom Of The River’ and the closing love song ‘Nobody Moves Me Like You Do’.
Just in case you didn’t know, Walter continues to wait for a liver transplant and somehow he gathered his strength to cut this album to commemorate his 25th year as a solo artist.
Inevitably its coloured by his own travails with even the apparent macro concerns of ‘The World Is Going Crazy (And So Am I)’, being internalised and given a meaningful context within his current ill health.
Given his circumstances ‘The Blues Came Callin’ has to be the most understated title ever, and yet despite it all, Walter has still managed to cut a remarkable album that many of his contemporaries would love to equal.
He gives it his best shot and then some more, varying his tone, tempos and arrangements to suite his current playing ability, which remains inspired to the last.
Listen to the profound lyrics and intricate interplay of ‘The ‘Bottom Of The River’ as he switches from acoustic to electric guitar and harp, to bring different tonal colours and deep feel to bear on a defining blues song that deals with his own situation.
John Mayall joins him for a honky tonk piano as Walter leans into ‘Take A Little Time’ and revels in a rock & roll workout, suggesting that no matter how deep his blues, nothing will get in the way of a rocking session with his musical mentor.
He adds his trademark tone over Sammy Avila’s big organ sweep on ‘The Whale’, and soars again with focussed intensity on the boogie blues of ‘Willie’, as he builds layer upon layer of riff driven tension. His whip chord rhythm section of Michael Leasure and Rick Knapp does him proud on a track that must have exhausted him.
Mayall pops up again for the first of the album’s two instrumentals on the self explanatory ‘Mayall’s Piano Boogie’. It opens as an apparent casual noodle before slipping into a relaxed groove, which producer Corne had the quickness of mind to cut as a track, while ‘Tight Shoes’ is a gently swinging, undulating shuffle.
‘Born In The City’ is the closest we get to an archetypal, coruscating Walter Trout style blues, on which only his husky vocal betrays his failing health, though his phrasing remains peerless, as he encourages the band to kick ass with an imploring: ‘C’mon fellas, lets go’.
The title track finds Mayall and Trout on organ and guitar respectively, reeling back the years, before Walter’s lyrics wrench us back to the present blues: “It had hold of me so tightly that I could not break free, and all night long it told me, you’ll never be the man you used to be’.
Maybe so, but the track is another gesture of defiance on an album that is a personal catharsis. At times you realise Walter simply doesn’t have the strength to deliver his usual guitar avalanche, and so on ‘Hard Time’ he takes a different approach, with a delicate conversational solo born of a more piercing tone, that is just as effective. It’s also noticeable that Rick Knapp’s bass is more prominent in the mix, as producer Eric Corne neatly balances things out without losing any punch.
‘The Blues Came Callin‘’ is a memorable record for all sorts of reasons. It’s a deeply introspective album that speaks form the soul and doubtless recording it pushed Walter to the limit. And having done so, he rounds it off with an ode to his wife Marie, on ‘Nobody Moves Me Like You Do’. If you ever were ever in any doubt as to what the blues is, play this album back to back, it speaks volumes. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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