Provogue [Release date 23.10.15]
Given his near miraculous recovery from liver failure and attendant medical problems, Walter Trout’s ‘Battle Scars’ is an unsurprisingly lyrically heavy opus that takes blues-rock to a new level.
‘Battle Scars’ is much more than the triumph of the will over impossible odds. For while Walter shares his darkest hours with us, his guitar driven blues-rock hits the kind of musical highs that only the inspired can reach for.
And if his inspiration is derived from months in a hospital bed, his lyrical depth is counter weighted by a mix of coruscating riffs, deep tones and a combination of a joy de vivre and sheer musical exhilaration that finds him at the peak of his recovery.
His booming voice is back and his intense riffery remains an essential part of his DNA, while his songs convey the trials and tribulations of a true (blues) survivor.
There’s irony too, in as much as Trout has always set himself apart from the majority of his blues-rock contemporaries in the way he’s always seeks deeper meaning and significance with his lyrics. But who would have thought it would take a life threatening liver problem to illuminate his best ever work?
All that said, ‘Battle Scars’ still rocks with fiery intent and carries a welcome lighter side too, especially on the big production ‘My Ship Came In’ – a reference to the fact he missed out on a career boosting record company promotional push for his 25th anniversary. The song builds imperiously and after a slight change of pace, Walter fills the tracks with joyous notes and his band mirror’s his intensity on a ripping track.
‘Battle Scars’ is also a celebration of the band’s collective will to make the magic happen again, as Michael Leasure’s rock solid drumming and Sammy Avila’s keyboard fills and sweeps are an integral part of Trout’s music. New boy bass player John Griparic locks into the grooves with such vibrancy that he enables Trout to reach for new music heights.
Listen to the brusque rhythm track on ‘Tomorrow Seems So Far Away’, and you’re hearing a whip crack tour band that strains every fibre to nuance the last ounce of feeling from their band leader’s songs.
Immense credit should also go to engineer and de facto producer Eric Corne, who having got a remarkable performance out of the ailing Trout on ‘The Blues Came Calling’ album, reinforces all the positives on this CD.
If ‘The Bottom Of The River’, marked a songwriting high for Walter, ‘Battle Scars’ significantly returns to the same emotional core with a pristine sonic quality full of deep tones and fired by a bristling energy and live in the studio feel that belies his recent past.
It’s all there on the thematic opening of ‘Almost Gone’ – a combination of big wailing harp, jangling guitars and enveloping harmonies – which serves to throw out a marker for his survival and ultimate recovery.
‘Battle Scars’ is essentially a conceptual album born of a survivors journey via the ambulance sirens of ‘Omaha Prelude’, through the psychological trauma of ‘Tomorrow Seems So Far Away’ and the self explanatory ‘Haunted By The Night’, to the redemptive ‘Gonna Live Again’.
Make no mistake this is a kick-ass album that finds its equilibrium through some serious rocking and poignant ballads and as a result is one the most honest blues-rock albums in the immediate past.
Lyrics aside, ‘Almost Gone’ gloriously confirms the return of Walter’s full musical armoury. His initial snaking solo, cutting rhythm work and his band’s muscular interplay on ‘Omaha’ is as good as anything in recent times. And if ‘Tomorrow Seems So Far Away’ opens with some familiar Trout style riffs, it constructs the kind of funky groove that eerily evokes one of those black holes where he’s fighting to make through the next 24 hours.
There is almost a linear progression at play, as the ballad ‘Please Take Me Home’ suggests he’s overcome another dark moment to celebrate the present with an exhilarating southern rock-tinged melodic solo that radiates optimism.
In sharp contrast, on ‘Playin’ Hideway’ Walter kicks out the jams on an album highlight. His fiery vocals and guitar work is cushioned by a similar bv’s to be found on ‘Almost Gone’. The note choice and resonant tone of the resolving solo is Trout at his very best, as he mirrors his core feelings.
There’s vim and vigour aplenty too on the sledgehammer ‘Move On’, which he eclipses with a trademark solo of such intensity that it takes the song up another notch before a perfunctory finish.
The feeling of a musical and spiritual journey is reinforced by the flow of an album that takes us from flat-out rocking and returns us to his most traumatic bedside moments, via a portentous guitar line and close to the mic whispered vocal on the moving ‘Haunted By The Night’.
There’s also real attention to detail on the guitar tones of the radio friendly ‘Fly Away’, while Trout’s ability to pour so much of himself into 13 songs makes for a strongly sequenced album that never lets up either in terms of intensity, lyrical veracity or sheer creativity.
The deep blues of ‘Cold, Cold Ground’ is an obvious example, as he sings: I can hear the angels calling, but I can’t stand the sound……I ain’t ready for the cold, cold ground.
The redemptive ‘Gonna Live Again’ is a gentle acoustic ballad with the kind of life affirming message we’ve all been waiting for, while the final short studio outtake ‘Sammy, Sammy’ – a crashing chord with a fading Sammy Avila organ line – features the welcome sound of Walter laughing again.
‘Battle Scars’ finds Walter Trout back at the top of his game and it’s a clarion call for all that is great in both life and music. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
Walter Trout UK dates (2015)
Nov 17 Stockton Arc
Nov 18 Glasgow ABC
Nov 20 Holmfirth Picturedrome
Nov 21 London Forum
Nov 24 Leamington Spa Assembly
Nov 25 Frome Cheese & Grain
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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