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Issue 1081

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Review

Walter Trout: âLutherâs Blues.â (Provogue)

B&S CD Review: Walter Trout: âLutherâs Blues.â (Provogue)

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UK release date 10.06.2013

When I heard that veteran US blues man Walter Trout was making his first ever covers record - all Luther Allison songs - I had mixed feelings. I thought it might be something best left well alone, as Luther was such an individual guitarist and American blues artist, sadly missed by us all after he died from lung cancer in 1997. There was only one Luther. Plus; Walter is known mainly for his hard- edged rockier side of the blues.

Signed to Motown in 1972 for three albums, the only blues artist on the label, Luther made over a dozen albums in Europe. He left school in 1957 and formed The Rolling Stones, but didnât feel it was a strong enough name for a band, so changed it to The Four Jivers!

I photographed him maybe 18 months before he died, and he really was a towering musical force. Iâd not seen or heard such a display of fretboard fireworks, soul-blues vocal and absolute command of a room, since I worked with the likes of Albert Collins, Albert King and indeed BB King.

But I need not have worried about this CD. It is a magnificent job and perhaps a career defining moment for Mr T? I have seen him circa four times over the years, and can sometimes have too much of his loud and âin yer faceâ style of rockier blues â a former member of Canned Heat and John Mayallâs Bluesbreakers â but he has done much to spread the blues gospel around the world and is a huge talent.

But here he squeezes every ounce of emotion, soul, passion and sweetness from the guitar and from his vocals. A very pleasing side to the man. I believe on these 13 tracks, we get the best vocal and guitar performances he has probably ever delivered on record.
That was the thing with Luther. One minute caressing you with a sweet, pain-filled soul meets blues vocal, and the next he could rip your spleen out with that ferocious attack on guitar. He was always light and he was always shade. But most of all, he was ALWAYS Luther. He never borrowed licks. Ever.

Walter does the very same here. He doesnât try to BE Luther. He is very much his own man on Lutherâs songs, with huge restraint in approach. Respect and love for the man oozes out of every note, every nuance, and every vocal breath.

Walter Troutâs story is equal parts thriller, romance, suspense and horror. There are musical fireworks, critical acclaim and fists-aloft triumph, offset by wilderness years and brushes with the jaws of narcotic oblivion.

Of all the peaks in Troutâs trajectory, his abiding memory of the late Chicago bluesman is perhaps the most literal. Itâs 1986, and high above Lake Geneva, at the palatial Alpine chalet of late Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs. Lunch is being served. âSo weâre up at the top of the Alps,â Trout recalls, âin this big room with John Mayall, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Robert Cray, Otis Rush, and as weâre eating, Dr. John is serenading us on acoustic piano. I was sat there with Luther Allison, and we had a great talk.â

âLuther was one of the all-time greats. It was just an unbelievably potent thing to watch him perform. Just the energy and commitment that guy had, he was one of a kind. We played together once, at the Jazz Fest that year, and just as we walked offstage, somebody pointed a camera and we hugged and smiled. And that photo is on the cover of the CD. When he died in 1997, the idea of the album was planted in my brain.â

For me, the one thing that binds Trout and Allison together, apart from the obvious blues genre; is that sense one gets as a member of their audience, that their lives depend on giving us a truly great performance. Night after night, gig after gig, tour after tour, venue after venue, big or small. No matter what shit they are going through off stage. Once they are plugged in and in front of the fans, it's showtime and nothing less than their best will do.

Luther always gave, and Walter always gives 100% on stage. Well, that is also true here on this record. It sounds like he gave his all, from his heart and his soul on an absolute labour of love. It really is an outstanding record and deserves a Grammy nod for this fitting tribute to a true blues one-off. Luther would be proud.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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