Friday, February 23, 2024

Walter Trout - Broken

Broken is Walter Trout’s 31st album.  That’s a whole lotta guitar notes under the bridge.  Now, I must admit that I’ve really only cottoned on to Walter in the last ten years or so, so I can’t really comment on the quality of all his stuff.  But hell, he can still uncork some eye-popping tunes.
Take ‘Courage In The Dark’, for example, the third track on Broken.  It’s a moody blues, built around low key, hypnotic guitar notes and a hesitant beat, and it’s simple but utterly convincing. The lyric contemplates the fear of bad times, and the need for courage to get through them, and Trout delivers it with real sensitivity, while elevating the song and creating a light in the black by means of some wonderfully expressive guitar work.
Walter Trout - out of the black, and into the blues
Pic by Leland Howard
So ‘Courage . . .’ ticks the “sophistication” box, and then the following ‘Bleed’ confirms that ol’ Walter sure as hell still knows how to rock.  A
 song about the importance of stickability and going the extra mile in order to achieve success, it's a hard-hitting blast of raunch, with pulses of organ brightening Trout’s chugging, fuzzed-up guitar, interspersed with howls of harp from Will Wilde. And there’s a casual wit about Walter’s paternal nudge of “Play your harmonica, son” to Wilde before the latter lets loose on a skating solo.
At the other end of the album, the surging ‘Heaven Or Hell’ is given an original twist by the declamatory, spoken vocal with which Trout embodies the fiery preaching of a blind man he encountered on the street, complemented by a fizzing guitar solo and then an anthemic outro over Michael Leasure’s thumping drums.  And the closing ‘Falls Apart’ offers something distinctive, with an epic vibe triggered by spangly guitar strumming and reverb-treated vocals. Trout has made a tongue-in-cheek comparison with Pink Floyd, but in truth this is always more unconstrained than the pink ‘uns would ever be, even with the embellishment of some stylish, wordlessly soaring harmonies.  But there’s a still a dreamy quality as the refrain of “It falls apart” accompanies Trout’s piercing guitar through to the end.
There’s plenty of solid interest in the middle of the album too, from the electric sitar propelling the melodic ‘Talkin’ To Myself’ to the quasi-talking blues of the loping ‘No Magic (on the street)’, on which it seems Trout has a bash on harmonica himself while reflecting on a lack of connection to the modern world. Meanwhile Dee Snider turns up to partner Trout on the snarling, out-and-out rocker ‘I’ve Had Enough’. Feel the electrical charge in the riffing folks, and if no-one’s around then let yourself go and bang that head!
There’s romance to be had in the instrumental ‘Love Of My Life’, with its string-like keys and liquid, sustain-heavy guitar work, and in the light-touch love song ‘I Wanna Stay’.  And there’s wistfulness too, in the deliberately Faces-evocative ‘Breathe’.
In fact the only songs that don’t hit the bullseye for me are the opening pair of ‘Broken’ and ‘Turn And Walk Away’, and with both it’s down to personal taste.  Beth Hart guests on the subdued opener ‘Broken’, and promptly unwraps the heavy vibrato that always grates on me – she may have toned it down successfully on some recent outings, but sadly not here.  The slowly revolving ‘Turn And Walk Away’ which follows is tidy enough, with a tasteful closing solo, but it’s essentially a cowboy-style blues, and a little of that goes an awful long way for me, pardner.
But never mind my quibbles.  Broken don't need fixin'.  It's top drawer blues-rock, with several imaginative highlights along the way, and a reminder that at 72-years old Walter Trout is still cutting it, still as relevant as any of the young pups that garner all the hype.
Broken is released by Provogue Records on 1 March, and can be ordered here.

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