Album Review: Walter Trout – Broken

Review and live photos by Peter Coates –

Release Date – 1st March 2024

All of us are broken. But no-one is beyond repair. It’s a philosophy that Walter Trout has lived by during seven volatile decades at the heart of America’s society and blues-rock scene. Even now, with the world more fractured than ever – by politics, economics, social media and culture wars – the fabled US bluesman’s latest album, Broken, chronicles the bitter schisms of modern life but refuses to succumb to them.

The beats of Trout’s unbelievable story are well-known: the traumatic childhood in Ocean City, New Jersey; the audacious move to the West Coast in ’74; the auspicious but chaotic sideman shifts with John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton; the raging addictions that somehow never stopped the boogie when he was with Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the 1980s.  Trout then went out on his own and released Life In The Jungle in 1989, which began the next phase of this remarkable life.

15 or so solo albums later, while touring Germany in 2013, the cirrhosis was discovered, and Trout was told he needed a liver transplant within 90 days, and spent 8 months in hospital after the transplant, needing to learn how to walk, talk and play guitar again due to some brain damage that resulted from the medical condition.

The Blues Came Callin’ was released in 2015, and the man has been prolific ever since with almost an album a year being released up to this latest collection.  I was lucky enough to see Walter live again in Australia this month, and he is still a sensational live performer, and an enduring tribute to the true bluesmen who he still calls his heroes.

The title track, Broken, has been out for a while now, and is one of the most passionate and desolate blues ballads you have heard, featuring the amazing Beth Hart sharing the lead vocals in a fiery duet that gets the hairs up on the back of your neck with the ground-glass and silk tones of her voice.  The lyrics were almost too much for Walter to deal with, so his wife Marie helped craft them, and nailed it.  The solo is a clean and slick exercise that fits the song perfectly, and Trout killed it in one take.  A steel guitar and harmonica blues workout follows in Turn And Walk Away, and then develops into a classic “cowboy” blues-rock number with some scintillating lead guitar work, alongside some ripping harmonica.

A straight-up blues showcase, with shades of Black Velvet in the rolling bassline, Courage In The Dark is a lengthy vehicle that allows Trout to really express himself through the guitar work, which is right up there with any of the greats of the genre.  There is very little that is brand new in the blues world, and the simple chord sequences and complementary keyboards that sit under the main line provide a simple counter to the incendiary guitar work of the extended solo.  Trout also provides a clean and simple vocal delivery which oozes warmth in amongst all of the angst and darkness in the lyrics.

Allegedly, in 31 albums, Trout has never recorded a boogie number – and when drummer Michael Leasure asked him why, they came up with the rollicking Bleed, featuring a young British harmonica player in Will Wilde who elevates the harp to another level.  Trout calls him “the best I’ve ever heard”, and the two of them trade licks and breaks over the solid boogie riffs. 

Talkin’ To Myself is a bit of a throwback to the AM Radio days when Walter was starting to play electric guitar, and has an Americana feel to it, driven by the bass line from James Hunting, and with an Eastern-tinged distorted feel to the solo on electric sitar.  Back to some classic rough and ready blues, with the spoken-word verses of No Magic (in the street) which delivers punch after punch in the lyrics, has Richard T Bear tinkling the keys with a passion, and Trout has some fun on the guitar, alternating between the Rory Gallagher riffing through to some neck-bending virtuosity, all the while throwing out the lead vocal line, until the sudden stop!

The guitars crank up for the rip-snorter of I’ve Had Enough, written with Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, and this is Trout at his finest.  Snider tears into the second verse with no subtlety at all, and leads into a wicked set of guitar breaks over some sharp accents from the band, and then some solid riffing before the vocals kick back in as the guys share the next verse and chorus, with the clear contrast in the vocal styles.  The repeated hook-line sees the two trade howls of voice and guitar, and wraps up the track perfectly.

The back-end of the album provides some delicate touches of light and shade, with the luscious string and keyboard layered background to the intricate guitar work of Love Of My Life, dedicated to Marie, and with some great electric piano work in place of a guitar solo….well in front of the guitar solo at least.  Breathe is another old-school Americana / blues rock ballad with some more impassioned vocals, and meaningful lyrics, written by Richard T Bear in the midst of COVID lockdowns – think Mott The Hoople or the Faces doing a gentle love song!

Heaven Or Hell is another belter of a track, with the hellfire preacher delivery of the vocals working well in the verses, and the band cranking along with a solid bass and drum line, and Michael Leasure is whiplash sharp on the kit, while Trout is fearsome on the lead guitar lines, before a stripped-back backing to some wailing breaks, and then the track winds up through another chorus and double-time solo.  I love watching Leasure playing live…….he is as solid as Cozy Powell in his prime, but full of deft touches too!  Trout lifts his vocals up an octave for the heartfelt love song I Wanna Stay, also written for Marie as a true expression of his love for the woman who saved him.  

The album starts with Broken and ends with Falls Apart – altogether taken as a chronicle of the fractured nature of politics, money, social media and cultural divides, and Trout’s alternate raging and soothing messages just about come out with an overall positive message.  The closer is a remarkable arrangement that Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons or Todd Rundgren would be proud of – featuring a range of different tunings and guitar rhythms that create a epic soundscape, punctuated by some classic Trout lead breaks, and the constant backing vocals of the title line that come to the fore as an acapella close to the album.

There is little about Walter Trout that has not been said before by much more educated and experienced reviewers, but some of the material here is spine-tingling in intensity, and the guitar playing in the studio is just sensational.  It is also good to report that the man still delivers a tremendous live set, with an enthusiasm that is infectious, and where despite the tales of woe that link the songs, and in the lyrics, there is an enduring sense of the joy to be found in life that he expresses through the guitar.

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