4 out of 5 stars
Even in the notoriously unsparing blues world, Walter Trout has had a bumpy, at times life-threatening, career. And it has been a long one.
The now 71-year-old guitarist/vocalist and songwriter has been playing professionally since his late teens, eventually supporting well-respected roots acts like Big Mama Thornton and John Lee Hooker. But a high-profile stint in Canned Heat starting in 1981 generated international recognition as one of the best blues rocking guitarists of his generation, along with kick-starting him on a never-ending road of grueling one-night stands propped up by drug and alcohol abuse. A five-year run working with the legendary John Mayall further spotlighted his scorching talents, after which he went solo.
That was in 1990 and he hasn’t stopped for long since, logging thousands of road miles along with churning out 29 albums. The life of near-constant travel and various substance abuses came to a head in 2013 when Trout’s liver failed. A transplant a year later created more health complications, but trooper that he is, the appropriately titled Battle Scars appeared in 2015, followed by the just as aptly named Survivor Blues in 2019.
He’s back for album number thirty and if anyone thinks his health issues have mellowed him, one spin of this hour-long set removes any doubts. From the opening swamp stomp of “Ghosts,” a song about old, often bad habits that won’t let go, to the sweet, closing love ballad “Destiny,” Trout sings and plays with the gutsy passion and emotional intensity of a guy who has persevered over obstacles that would have derailed other musicians.
He has become a serious quadruple threat as a powerful singer, harmonica player, guitarist, and songwriter. Like Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose similarly styled instrumental attack Trout can be favorably compared to, his songs aren’t just frameworks to hang his sizzling, meaty six-string solos around. Rather they are melodically and especially lyrically potent examples of a musician now at the top of his game. He is joined by a tough trio of drums/bass/keyboards that keeps the sound mean and feisty, especially as he gruffly howls at a friend So stop your moanin’/You got to pick yourself off the ground following a sweaty, wallpaper peeling guitar solo.
Trout gets slightly political on “So Many Sad Goodbyes” singing Hatred screams so loudly / Greed wears a thin disguise, as the band chugs along creating a mid-western, mid-tempo rock groove. The hard-charging title track brings Allman Brothers Band country tinges to the proceedings as Trout relates how a childhood hearing trains fascinated him as a way to escape. Horns swing in to bring a J Geils/Southside Johnny vibe to “Leave it All Behind” and things even shift to funky on the autobiographical “I Worry Too Much” as he rasps I worry ‘bout the future-I worry ‘bout the past/I worry ‘bout my liver/How long it’s going to last.
That psychological turmoil has created a searing, almost relentless blues rock collection with no weak tracks. We’ll keep on running til we run out of gas he declares, and with an album as commanding as Ride, you know he means it.