Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Walter Trout - Ordinary Madness (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Blues Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 28 Aug 2020
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I reviewed Walter Trout's Survivor Blues in 2019, almost to the day, and it was emphatically a blues album. Like duh, you think, but it was a deep covers album that saw him reinterpret a variety of older music. This is a blues album too, of course, but it plays to me like a rock album. Robby Krieger of the Doors guested on one track and he provided the studio for this one and maybe that's a factor in why this explores the blues through the rock music it inspired rather than directly. Maybe it's just a focus back on the blues rock that he started out playing when he graduated from sideman to his own band. I haven't immersed myself deeply enough into his copious discography to be able to say.

I love how it starts. The title track is a slow blues with a smooth, laid back vibe, but it also has an odd opening and a darkness that's just a little obscured from us, like we're not supposed to see it but will always find it eventually. It's a gorgeous song, led by Trout's gorgeous guitar, but also his voice. He's never going to be remembered for his voice the way he is for his guitar, but it's perfect for this track, because it pairs an everyday vocal with an unworldly guitar and that helps.

Most of the rest of the album moves firmly into rock and often hard rock. "I still love my rock 'n' roll, the Beatles and the Stones," Trout sings on OK Boomer. "I like my music loud." On that prior album, any comparisons made would be to blues musicians, but here they're to blues rockers. The most overt rockers here may be Final Curtain Call, which reminds of Rory Gallagher, and The Sun is Going Down, a psychedelic blues rocker that brings Robin Trower quickly to mind.

The first obvious rock song is Wanna Dance, which has a real darkness to it, more obviously than that opener. I love the heavy seventies organ sound and I love how the whole song is more upbeat and up tempo, even with a dark miasma hanging over everything. Trout isn't interested in just exploring one blues rock sound though and continues to mix it up. My Foolish Pride is more of a Bob Seger song, a good one but one that feels tamer than it should, given what's gone before. It's slower and softer and more emotional, but, to my thinking, All Out of Tears does what My Foolish Pride tries and fails to do, which is to get emotional without losing the atmosphere.

It's fun to figure out the rock underpinnings here. Heartland has a Neil Young vibe. Wanna Dance has a Dire Straits feel to its intro. Heaven in Your Eyes reminds of Gary Moore's Empty Rooms. Even on a purer blues song, like Make It Right, I was reminded of Jeff Healey, who discovered that the world of rock music was very open to a blind white Canadian bluesman. Once we've heard Robin Trower in The Sun is Going Down, suddenly he's everywhere on the next listen, especially on Up Above My Sky. The only song where I felt that the blues influence was stronger than the rock audience was All Out of Tears, on which I immediately thought B. B. King.

All in all, this is a peach of a blues rock album, neatly varied and highly accomplished. Trout is closing in on seventy years of age, but this doesn't feel like an old bluesman's album, even if it wraps up with an acknowledgement of that in OK Boomer. It feels like there's serious experience there, as it should, but it also feels like Trout is still playing for the future. I look forward to another January review of a Walter Trout album.

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