Guitarist Walter Trout has been banging away at the blues since he was a teenager. After kicking around the thriving late-1960s New Jersey garage rock scene for a few years, Trout packed up his axe and lit out for the West Coast, where he spend the better part of the '70s backing up legends like John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. He was Bob Hite's replacement in Canned Heat during the early-1980s, and mid-decade he joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, where he spent five years apprenticing with the British blues-rock master.
Trout's solo career began in earnest in 1989, and over the course of the next twenty years and umpteen albums, the guitarist has earned a well-deserved reputation as a solid blues songwriter and an incendiary performer best experienced live. A solid collection of new, live, and unreleased tracks, Unspoiled By Progress is more than a career retrospective, it's also a mirror reflecting where Trout has been and, with three engaging new studio tracks, also a signpost pointing to where the talented guitarist might be going.
Walter Trout's Unspoiled By Progress
Unspoiled By Progress opens with Trout's most recent studio recording, the timely blue-collar, blues-rock rave-up "They Call Us The Working Class." A powerful, politically-supercharged anthem that touches upon topical themes like factory lay-offs, CEO bonuses, and home foreclosures, Trout matches his angry lyrics with scorched-earth fretwork that is muscular as well as nuanced. This may well be the best tune that Trout has ever written, and it walks proudly in the blues tradition...with its explosive soundtrack, I can see this one becoming a live performance favorite with the fans.
After an out-of-the-park homerun opener like "They Call Us The Working Class," one would expect a bit of a letdown as Unspoiled By Progress proceeds...but that isn't the case. Trout tears into a meaty cover of the classic Don Nix-penned, Freddie King-defined rocker "Goin' Down," from a 1991 BBC radio broadcast. With the band blowing like a hurricane-force wind behind him, Trout fires off some amazing six-string pyrotechnics, his fervor matched by keyboardist Danny "Mongo" Abrams' manic, iron-hard riffing.
Inspired Originals & Choice Covers
In highlighting Trout's largely (criminally) underrated career, Unspoiled By Progress offers many inspired performances among its balanced mix of original songs and choice covers. A fiery live reading of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," taken from a 1991 Amsterdam show, stands somewhere between the rock 'n' roll legend's original take and the blues-rock definition written by Cactus in the 1970s, with "Mongo" Abrams' anarchic keyboard-pounding complimented by Trout's over-the-top vocals and fine, rockabilly-tinged fretwork.
A live 1989 cover of John Mayall's "Somebody's Acting Like A Child," a song that Trout no doubt performed nightly as a member of Mayall's Bluesbreakers, is an old-school blues romp with a driving rhythm, heavy bassline, and plenty of Trout's unique six-string flourishes. Buddy Guy's wonderful "She's Out There Somewhere" is provided an appropriate Chicago blues swagger, Trout delivering his blustery vocals above a fast-walking beat, his tough guitar riffs dueling with Abrams' keyboard flash, Jimmy Trapp's heartbeat basslines, and Michael Leasure's steady rockin' drums.
Something Old, Something New....
The album's liner notes state that Trout wrote "Two Sides To Every Story," another new studio recording, after listening to "a few hours of Lightnin' Hopkins," and it shows where it matters. The amplified country-blues styled song shows a different side to Trout's vocals as he adopts a Texas patois above his wiry acoustic guitarwork. The addition of keyboardist Sammy Avila's Hammond B3 chiming away in the background lends the old-school song a modern touch.
A live version of Finis Tasby's "Goin' Back Home," taken from the 1991 Bonn Blues Festival in Germany, shines a deserving spotlight on Trout's band members, bassist Jimmy Trapp and drummer Bernard Pershey, both of whom deliver red-hot and impressive solos on their respective instruments. Written for his wife, Trout's "Marie's Mood" is an emotional instrumental work-out that displays Trout's incredible range and fluency with flashes of jazzy six-string bursts weaving in and out between keyboardist Martin Gershwitz's dominating soundtrack.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Unspoiled By Progress is a great introductory album for blues-rock fans unfamiliar with the work of talented guitarist, songwriter, and bandleader Walter Trout. More than a mere collection of flotsam-and-jetsam from across the years of Trout's solo work, the album works well as a sampler of both Trout's six-string skills and songwriting acumen.
In mixing recent studio tracks with decades-old live performances, Unspoiled By Progress not only shows a remarkable cohesion as a collection in and of itself, it also shows that while Trout's playing and songwriting have improved and matured through the years, he has never strayed far from the blues-rock at the heart of his music. Longtime Trout fans will be giddy over Unspoiled By Progress, but it is also well worth checking out for any listener with a taste for blues-rock guitar. (Provogue Records, released August 4, 2009)