Walter Trout & His Band – Luther’s Blues: A Tribute To Luther Allison (2013)
This new release Walter Trout album is a tribute to his dear friend Luther Allison, a bluesman and supremely talented guitarist, who died in 1997 at the age of 57. All of the tracks on this album are Luther’s songs, with the exception of the final track, “When Luther Played The Blues”, a genuinely touching which Walter wrote about Luther and his passion for music and performance. Luther Allison, for anyone who, like myself, wasn’t overly familiar with his music prior to this album, was part of the Chicago blues scene, was discovered by Howlin’ Wolf in 1957 and subsequently mentored by Freddie King, building up a massive loyal fan-base over the years. His live shows were legendary and according to James Solberg, who played with him off and on for 25 years and co-wrote much of his music, they could go on for up to four hours or sometimes even more. There’s a lovely quote by Allison on the album that Walter has specifically highlighted on the track he composed – “Leave your ego, play the music, love the people” – which is a fine and admirable motto for any musician.
I’m approaching this album as a Walter Trout fan who knows little about Luther’s music, so nearly all of these tracks are new to me and therefore cannot compare them against the originals, but one of the great things about this album and certainly all of the accolades printed on the insert from his friends and family, is that it makes me want to seek out the source material and discover more of Allison’s music. I imagine that, given the mutual respect between the two men, these covers are faithful to Luther’s compositions and his style of playing. Certainly, the music offered here is nothing less than excellent, recorded with Walter’s superb band with no rehearsals as such, to create a spontaneous and urgent atmosphere.
Powerful opener “I’m Back” rolls into town like a speeding freight train, with Walter cutting loose with a couple of sizzling solos, the blistering “Cherry Red Wine” is a particularly fine passionate blues track, so I can certainly see why it was one of Luther’s most popular compositions. “Move From The Hood” is a good, upbeat track, “Bad Love” is a solid gold album highlight, with some absolutely scintillating lead guitar and beautifully tortured vocals, “Big City” is a big, laid-back number, leaving plenty of space for those trademark Trout licks and lightning quick guitar fireworks and “Chicago” is a funky track with a groovy bass and drum performance holding it all together fantastically.
The gorgeous soul ballad, “Just As I Am” is a nice change of pace and is a truly exquisitely performed track, with Walter coaxing every bit of genuine emotion out of the composition. “Low Down and Dirty”, with its strong rock beat, appealing riff and walking bass-line is a real treat, especially as Luther’s son, Bernard, joins him on slide guitar and vocals. The stripped-down, emotive blues of “Pain In The Streets” puts the guitar firmly in the fore and the riffs deliver as much meaning as the lyrics, whereas the mean and moody “All The Kings Horses” provides a fuller, dirtier band sound, grinding out the full hurt and anger of the words. “Freedom” is another masterclass in blues, with Trout’s solo building up to a thrilling climax, before taking it back down again with the last verse and chorus. Walter’s only composition on this album, “When Luther Played The Blues” is a superb accolade to this friend and an outstanding way to conclude a top-notch collection of songs and performances.
Throughout, Walter Trout is in absolutely magnificent form. Playing with a master’s knowledge of the genre, forever mixing the solos up, switching from tearing every last piece of emotion out of sustained single notes to smoking hot explorations of the fret board and yet never becoming predictable or clichéd. If I am representative of the person that he was reaching out to, hoping to introduce Luther’s music to, then he has succeeded, because this is simply incredible music, performed by one of the greatest blues bands on the planet, certainly one of the greatest, most accomplished and most exciting guitar players I have ever seen in my life. I strongly recommend “Luther’s Blues” to all lovers of blues/blues rock. You don’t have to know anything about Luther Allison to appreciate this album, but you will certainly appreciate him after you listen to it. I guess that was the whole point of this project.