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Walter Trout - Ordinary Madness (Album Review)

Friday, 04 September 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Alessandro Solca

Traumatic events don’t need to be life-changing explosions to affect us on a profound, lasting level. Providing the visceral fuel for this fiery, haunting and acutely introspective album, Walter Trout stares down little earthquakes like emotional abuse, heartbreak, interpersonal conflict and fear of mortality to produce an exquisitely rendered, pleasingly diverse and synergistically watertight marriage of lyrics, emotion and music.

As an artist, Trout’s unquestionably honest. Yet, as a man, he’s adopted the same facade as many of us, hiding his torment beneath a well constructed mask. On ‘Ordinary Madness’ that veneer has been ripped away. Boasting an almost intertwined, albeit non-linear, three act structure, it finds Trout looking at how his turbulent journey has been shaped by childhood anguish, while also addressing relationship issues in the present and, by tentatively looking forward, attempting to come to terms with life’s final bow.

We’ve come to expect unflinching lyrics from this 69-year-old bluesman, but what’s impressive about ‘Ordinary Madness’ is that its themes are expressed with such a strong musical voice that, even without words, you’d still get a sense of their emotional bent.

The title track begins with an eerie electronic dissonance before a prowling, ghostly blues ambience creeps forth. Claustrophobic and hypnotic, it's a perfect soundscape for Trout to chronicle the demons he wrestles with on a daily basis. Along similar lines, the album's relationship songs boast heart-on-sleeve openness, featuring lots of spacious, tender textures as mourning, regret and home truths are passionately expressed.

Gloriously melancholic yet romantic, My Foolish Pride is a southern gospel peach where flaws and failings are exposed in hope of deliverance. Bitter Tears, meanwhile, is a Gary Moore-flavoured outpouring of scorching six-string balladry and the beautifully sad Heaven In Your Eyes, with its earnest and low key vocal, reveals the pain and frustration of trying to communicate with a lover who can’t be reached.

Elsewhere, explosive release arrives when the mood calls. Wanna Dance unleashes a  dramatic, visceral Neil Young attack that screams carpe diem from first note to last. Final Curtain Call, meanwhile, strides forward like When The Levee Breaks on a death defying, mid-tempo Celtic march. And Okay Boomer closes proceedings in uproarious fashion, with Trout celebrating his generation over an old school barrage of youth-revisiting garage rock.

Offering plenty of exciting stylistic curveballs, this record also strays from Trout’s blues base with great results. Exemplifying the aforementioned marriage of music and message, When The Sun Goes Down is a dusky, psychedelic fever dream that erupts into a swaggering and sexy groove as the guitarist turns tables on the grim reaper and vows to fight until the end.

Perhaps the veteran gunslinger’s greatest achievement on ‘Ordinary Madness’ is how, regardless of style or emotional focus, almost every track feels like an intimate conversation.  The only fly in the ointment is Heartland. It's a story about a young girl dreaming of a better life that abandons the autobiographical approach and descends into cliché as a result. It only serves to illustrate the way Trout’s own truth makes this record tick, drawing in listeners and influencing the empathetic moves his band deliver on each cut. All in all, it’s basically another reminder that, as an artist, Walter Trout is anything but ordinary.

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