American bluesman Walter Trout splits his time pretty evenly between his home in California and his wife’s native Denmark these days – but it’s clear he still has as much passion for rocking blues as ever, and as much fodder for his song-writing as he could want. The fact that he is here at all is little short of a miracle, having come so close to death in 2014 that only a last-minute liver transplant saved him – but here he is, hale and hearty and with a renewed zest for life.
Ride is the septuagenarian’s 30th album, not including the early time he spent in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Canned Heat. It powers out of the speakers right from the start, with the hard-rocking Ghosts, a tale of how the past still comes back to haunt him from time to time, presented with a Jeff Healey level of heaviness, and Trout blowing the harp as well as playing guitar – check it out at the foot of this page. It’s a great opener, and a bit of a departure from, say, 2019’s Survivor Blues, which opened up with a slow 12-bar.
The title track follows, and this is unashamedly set in his childhood, as he watched the trains lumbering by and longed to swing aboard and ride the tracks. The clacking rhythm and train-whistle harp are clearly emotive of the theme, and the rolling rhythm drives a southern-state vibe, heavily reminiscent of the Allman Brothers’ Jessica, complete with rocking piano. Stand-in bassman Jamie Hunting does a great job driving this along, especially during the extended guitar/piano playout.
The next couple of tracks have a distinct feel of latter-day Robin Trower about them; smooth bluesy ballads with laid-back vocals, with acoustic guitar bolstering Follow You Back Home and some great, flowing blues guitar in So Many Sad Goodbyes. But then we’re back to the rock with High Is Low, another slice of thumping mid-tempo pub blues with overdriven harp and screaming guitar.
The ghost of Peter Green appears in the minor key slow blues Waiting For The Dawn, with the deep reverb recalling Green’s sound on The Bluesbreakers’ The Supernatural. Nevertheless, Trout’s optimistic side pops its head above the parapet for a while, with Better Days Ahead, a slow rock number, not overly heavy, with rock’n’roll era reverbed vocals. The next number is a genuine highlight, with the country light rock of Fertile Soil. The song’s general southern rock vibe also contains a flavour of REM’s What’s The Frequency Kenneth, before going very 1960s-psychedelic at the end – multiple vocal parts bring a clear whiff of Crosby Stills & Nash to the proceedings. An acoustic guitar and retro organ sound add to the ambience.
Worry Too Much is a rolling, up-tempo rocker with a twangy keyboard sound in the background – not to bring up his past health problems too much, this one just makes a passing mention of how long his new liver is going to last, but it’s presented in a tongue-in-cheek fashion! Leave It All Behind is another highlight, a groovy, up-tempo country rocker with an unexpected horn section. With its rapid-fire vocals, this one grooves along in the manner of Chuck Berry’s Nadine, or Tulane if you prefer. A fast electric piano solo is followed by some nice guitar work.
The final two numbers comprise the ominous tom-tom rhythmed mid-rock of Hey Mama, then conclude with a complete change, the romantic ballad Destiny, soaked in major 7th chords and devoted emotion. The thing with Walter Trout is that you always know what you are going to get – an hour of mostly rocking electric blues – but then you never know what he’s going to throw into the mix. In this case some of the album’s highest points involve country and southern-states grooves. Trout himself is clearly grateful that he’s still able to lay this stuff down on record; let’s hope it keeps on coming.
Ride by Walter Trout is available from 19th August on Provogue / Mascot