2 CDs / 16 tracks / 105 Minutes
Walter Trout has a lot going in his favor – a new lease on life, a tour supporting his excellent Battle Scars album, and a newly released concert album, ALIVE in Amsterdam. The latter is the best live blues album I have reviewed over the past few years, and this project says a lot about Walter and where he is in his life right now.
Trout is a blues guitar hero and singer who has appeared on over 40 albums in his career, including working as a sideman with luminaries of the genre and a five-year stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Things looked bad for him in 2013 when his liver was failing, but after a transplant in 2014 he came back as strong as ever. ALIVE in Amsterdam documents this comeback better than any magazine article or documentary could. Many musicians will lay down a live album to help fluff up their catalog or to give their fans something new to buy, but Walter used this opportunity to show all of us that he still loves his craft and that he is just as good as he ever was.
This show was recorded on November 28, 2015 at the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam, and Trout was joined by the well-traveled Johnny Griparic on bass, as well as longtime band members Michael Leasure on drums and Sammy Avila on the Hammond B3 organ. You will also get to hear Walter’s son, Jon Trout on guitar and Andrew Elt on vocals and guitar. This is a tight crew who lay down an excellent groove that allows Trout to do what he does best. As always, there is no set list but there is nothing thrown at these professionals that they are not able to handle.
Walter’s wife (and manager) Marie kicks things off with a quick introduction, and the crowd gives the band a warm welcome before Trout gives them a strong dose of guitar pyrotechnics to lead into ”Help Me.” This heavy 12-bar blues track features plenty of Walter’s guitar and his unwavering vocals, along with a fine organ break from Avila. After this they run through a high-energy take of Luther Allison’s “I’m Back” followed up with a sweet tribute to the late B.B. King, “Say Goodbye To The Blues,” complete with some heartfelt personal remembrances. This song has been huge for him in the Netherlands, and the audience really showed their approval.
Then the band strings together a half-dozen songs from Battle Scars, including “Almost Gone,” “Omaha,” “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away,” “Playin’ Hideaway,” “Haunted By the Night,” and “Fly Away.” If you are not familiar with this material, it might be a good idea to give it a listen. These songs were written during Walter’s recovery, and they are breathtakingly personal and honest. Usually when fans come out to see an artist they want to hear all the old hits, but the crowd at this show was really tuned in and was very appreciative of this new material. What a magical evening!
One of the high points of the album is when an audience member calls out for “Marie’s Mood” and Walter responds, “OK, we’ll do that for you, we’re easy!” Trout is at his most melodic here, and his touch on the fretboard is sublime. Another cool moment is when Jon rocks out with his father for “Rock Me Baby” which really shines with two guitarists up front. As with the rest of this two-hour show, these tunes are well recorded with a slightly bass and drum heavy mix that emphasizes how gnarly this set is.
ALIVE in Amsterdam is a wonderful live album from Walter Trout and his band,and if you are a fan of his music, or hard guitar-driven blues-rock in general, it should be on your list of albums to purchase as soon as possible. It is available either as a two-disc set or as a collection of three heavy vinyl albums, and it will surely get more than one listen if you pick up your own copy. They are currently touring Europe, but will swing back through the United States in August before heading back overseas, so click through his website to see if he is playing near you. It will definitely be worth your time!