Walter Trout: ALIVE in Amsterdam Review

Some musicians are at the peak of their abilities while they’re in their most natural element: onstage, before a roaring crowd, playing into the spotlight. Others find their creative impulses best met in a recording booth or in the quiet corner of a tour bus, where they can sort out lyrics and melodies with fewer distractions. It’s hard to say which environment Walter Trout prefers – after decades of performing and recording on his own and with bands like Canned Heat and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, he seems perfectly at home on both his 2015 studio album Battle Scars and his new live record ALIVE in Amsterdam, the latter of which was recorded in late November 2015 and released last month by Mascot Label Group/Provogue Records.

In the five decades since Trout began his musical career, he has come to represent determination, honesty and survival: everything that a true bluesman is. On ALIVE, his solos are scorching and his vocals are powerful – Trout is in his element, playing better than ever. Between these flashes of talent come the praises of a humble parent, proudly gesturing to his son’s guest appearance on guitar as though he has no idea where John Trout learned his skill. (“That’s my boy right there,” Trout declares, the smile evident in the tone of his voice.) John’s playing is nearly as masterful as his father’s: the two trade solos on “Rock Me Baby,” triggering loud cheers and applause from the Amsterdam crowd.

There’s a theme of continuation on this album, of the way the blues dissolves boundaries between the past and the future. As the future of the blues thrives in Trout’s son, so too does the past live in the memories Trout brings to the stage. His performance of his song “Say Goodbye to the Blues,” which the Netherlands voted the best blues song for five years after its 1991 release, exists as a dual tribute to Amsterdam and the late B.B. King, who inspired a new verse (“Play on, B.B. / Play your guitar right through the darkest night / Play on, B.B. / Play Lucille right through the night”). At the center of it all is Trout, a man who doesn’t forget his past’s victories (like his happy marriage to Marie Trout, the inspiration behind the fan requested “Marie’s Mood”) or recent struggles (most notably his liver transplant two years ago, documented in “Omaha”). He sounds happy to be alive and stronger than he’s been in years – and judging by the intensity of his playing and the playful way he coaxes fans to sing along, he isn’t taking anything for granted.

The blues community embraced Trout when he was ill, rooted for his quick recovery and organized tribute concerts to show support. When he took the stage last fall in Amsterdam and performed “I’m Back,” his performance was more than just a Luther Allison cover: it was a declaration and a promise, and boy were his fans glad to hear it.

The Review: 7.5/10 

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Say Goodbye to the Blues
– Fly Away
– Rock Me Baby

The Big Hit

– Rock Me Baby

Review by Meghan Roos

Buy the album: Amazon

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