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Walter Trout - Battle Scars (Album Review)

Monday, 02 November 2015 Written by Simon Ramsay

Outside of Hollywood blockbusters, happy endings aren’t the norm. In May of last year, blues hero Walter Trout was weeks away from death before a liver transplant saved his life. It was undoubtedly a dream outcome, but his ordeal cut deep. 'Battle Scars' is the unflinching, unvarnished - and quite magnificent - story of the guitarist's fight for life.

Trout has translated that brutal experience into a blues-rock concept album. We're taken inside the sorrowful and regretful mind of a man who is staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, searching for answers and struggling with the gruelling day-to-day minutiae of his predicament.  

From the reaper-dodging harmonica stomp of Almost Gone to the acoustic finale Gonna Live Again – which sounds like the aftermath of a climactic wild west shootout where the hero has barely survived - the lyrical sincerity poured into these cuts is incredibly evocative.

The deathly grind of Omaha – where Trout was treated – recalls the torture of hearing families weeping for deceased loved ones down the hall and knowing he might be "the next one gone". Likewise, the eeriness of Haunted By The Night captures the inescapable terror that strikes when you're alone in a hospital ward, unable to sleep and plagued by your deepest fears.

Initially, the veteran bluesman tried to write an album celebrating his triumphant resurrection, but ditched those songs as “they were coming out cliché”. The approach taken on 'Battle Scars' is much more effective thanks to the juxtaposition between the ailing figure in the songs and the musician playing them with such explosive vitality.

When Trout claims to be “reborn as a songwriter, a singer, a guitarist,” he isn't kidding.  His vocals are back to their full-blooded best, while Playin' Hideaway, Move On and Fly Away are the kind of magnificent rockers we haven't heard from him since 'Transition' and 'Breaking The Rules' in the early-to-mid ‘90s. Then there's his guitar playing. Frankly, it's a revelation.  

Although hugely talented, Trout has – not unfairly – sometimes been accused of over playing. Throughout these 12 tracks there's a laser-like focus and synergy with the emotional core of the material. Whether letting rip on My Ship Came In or expressing the depths of sadness on Please Take Me Home, every note and passage feels essential. It’s hard to think of an album of blues solos this flawless since Stevie Ray Vaughan's 1989 masterpiece 'In Step'.

For any artist to be this potent over 40 albums into their career is remarkable, but to be releasing what may be their finest work only 18 months after being at death's door is astonishing. On Cold Cold Ground, Trout claims: “I can't help believing, I got so much more to do.” If he keeps making records of this calibre, expect Hollywood to purchase the rights to his life story very soon.

Walter Trout Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue November 17 2015 - STOCKTON Arc
Wed November 18 2015 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Fri November 20 2015 - HOLMFIRTH Picturedrome
Sat November 21 2015 - LONDON O2 Forum
Tue November 24 2015 - LEAMINGTON SPA Leamington Spa Assembly
Wed November 25 2015 - FROME Cheese and Grain

Click here to compare & buy Walter Trout Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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