Album Review: WALTER TROUT – Luther’s Blues – A Tribute To Luther Allison

Provogue [Release date: 10.06.13]

‘A Tribute To Luther Allison’ is a triumph of ambition, focus and sheer ability over any semblance of self doubt, as Walter Trout successfully captures Luther Allison’s essential spirit. Such is Trout’s intrinsic feel for Luther’s music and belief in his legacy that he interprets the best of the Chicago blues man’s catalogue with the requisite amount of passion and intensity it deserves.

In his PR notes Walter says he momentarily thought he’d taken on something too big, but his heartfelt performance allays any such fears.

There’s a significant career parallel at the heart of this album. Walter Trout much like Allison before him spends a considerable amount of time working in Europe.  Luther made France his home before his American comeback in ’94 and the two met in Switzerland at the Montreux Jazz Festival which provided the location shot for the CD cover. And it is this sense of the blues in exile that permeates the album as a whole.

There are further links in that both artists shared the same label at different times and in James Solberg, Luther had a long term Trout style song-writing guitarist who pushed him towards blues-rock.

Given that Luther’s career spanned West-side Chicago blues, Motown soul, and blues-rock, not to mention a brief collaboration with Johnny Hallyday, the big question is what to leave out. Walter opts for Luther’s fully formed mid-90’s material with ‘Reckless’ and ‘Blue Streak’ providing the meat in the sandwich. He also adds a brace from ‘Soul Fixin’ Man’ – aka ‘Bad Love’ – and 1987’s ‘Rich Man’ to provide balance. The album finishes cleverly with Walter’s ripping self- penned ode to his hero on ‘When Luther Played The Blues’. Perhaps only the omission of ‘Serious’ is the one glaring omission on a well thought out project.

The album benefits from solid pre-prep work. The considered arrangements and thoughtful vocal attacks mirror Luther’s lyrical meaning and co-producer’s Eric Corne’s bright mix captures the snap. And in those moments when Walter engulfs himself in emotive songs like ‘Pain In The Streets’ his snakelike wiry guitar lines and delicate vibrato does his talking for him.

Issued by Provogue as part of The Classic Blues Series, ‘A Tribute To Luther Allison’ showcases Luther’s development as a blues man with real presence. Walter successfully searches for Allison’s intensity and wrings out every last drop of passion with searing guitar work in an amalgam of all the elements that come naturally to him.

In going to the source material Walter cleverly beefs up the core riffs, alternating his own busy note flurries with Luther’s single note attacks. He explores deeply honed solos over a pulsating rhythm track in a blend of shuffles, soulful vocals, deep-blues and occasional funk.

The alcohol fuelled tale of ‘Cherry Red Wine’ is close to his heart and well suited to his impassioned style, while ‘Bad Love’ lights the fuse, just as it used to do in Luther live shows. Walter’s commanding vocal on the live in the studio take is bolstered by the great rhythm section of Michael Leasure and Rick Knapp, who do him proud on a frisson busting track of super charged intensity.

Trout’s phrasing conveys the emotional turmoil of the songs and he adds a soaring solo that would make Luther smile and annoy the kind of blues purists who always denied Allison’s role as a blues-rock crossover artist.

‘Move From The Hood’ is the most radical arrangement of all, as Walter transforms it into a power shuffle. He reaches for new levels of real intensity with the self-help integrity of ‘Big City’, on an archetypal Allison slow-grind topped by a coruscating solo.

Luther’s son Bernard Allison joins Walter on a jammed out duet ‘Low Down & Dirty, which features contrasting slide guitar and beefy tones, before gets down low on his own with some beautifully wrought notes on ‘Pain In the Streets’. And he saves his best vocal for the heartfelt ‘Freedom’.

This is an impressive album that fully realises its lofty ambitions of ‘reigniting interest in Luther’s work’. It’s music with a Chicago heart and a gospel soul, played by a West Coast blues-rock guitarist steeped in New Jersey intensity. Trout proves to be the ideal conduit for Luther’s contemporary take on traditional blues.

Truth be told, Luther Allison didn’t start writing great songs until the latter part of his career, and Walter Trout presents a coherent and superbly played snap-shot of one of the great unsung heroes of modern blues era. ****(4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra

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