WALTER TROUT & THE FREE RADICALS - Live Trout (2000) & WALTER TROUT & FRIENDS - Full Circle (2006)
No overdubs, no sweetening, in fact, no extra music to flesh out this relatively slim double disc (available at a single price) that clocks in at a combined total of only 96 minutes: Welcome to one full Walter Trout performance, complete with between song patter as well as every note -- and there are a lot of them -- the guitarist played at this March 2000 show. Filled with blistering, unrefined, and unadulterated blues-rock, Trout has been playing shows identical to this for years in Europe where he is a fairly major star. The accomplished guitar slinger unfailingly delivers the sizzling six-string goods, especially in concert with his gritty yet undistinguished voice and frenetic leads. On his second live album, but first easily available in the States, Trout pulls out all the stops, shifting from the stinging slow blues and soft-loud dynamics of "Finally Gotten Over You" and "The Reason I'm Gone" to the all-out grinding swamp of "Gotta Broken Heart" and the meat and potatoes Chuck Berry by way of Johnny Winter rock and roll of "Good Enough to Eat." Tough, roughshod, and passionate, Trout, who had gone without sleep for 24 hours before this show, doesn't sound a bit fatigued. The liner notes state that this even adds an edge to this performance. A sideline into Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" adds some much needed subtly and a bit of gospel flavor to the proceedings, but Trout works best when his lightening fingers, brawny sustain, and hot dog fret runs are given free reign. It's all sweaty, powerful, and uncompromising, but without a unique voice, either vocally or instrumentally, Trout remains a gifted, hard working, undoubtedly scintillating live performer without the idiosyncratic edge to pull away from a pack of equally talented blues rockers.
In his mid-fifties at the time of this album's release in 2006, Walter Trout seemed to be in a reflective mood. His 2005 album was a collection of older, previously unreleased tracks from various stages in his extensive career. This follow-up finds him reconnecting with many artists he has worked with, laying down newly recorded originals. In fact, this is Trout's first studio recorded disc of fresh material since 2001's Go the Distance. As the Full Circle title implies, the guitarist rounds up some musicians/friends he has played with for a spontaneous set of performances. The liner notes explain that some of these tracks were unrehearsed first takes, and the heightened energy level throughout reflects that. Also impressive is that Trout was eye-to-eye with each artist, as opposed to projects where guests lay down solos at various times in different cities and never see each other. The disc kicks off in fine, heated form with John Mayall sharing vocals and guitar and adding harmonica to a fiery eight-minute slow blues workout "She Takes More Than She Gives." Trout restrains slightly his propensity to pummel more notes per minute than the next guy, infusing greater passion into his playing as evidenced by the swampy blues-rock of "Workin' Overtime," featuring Jeff Healey. Fellow fret shredders of his genre such as Bernard Allison, Coco Montoya, and especially Joe Bonamassa add predictable firepower with their contributions and seem to spur Trout to new heights. In this heavy company, it's refreshing to hear him shift into a jazzier mood with Junior Watson on "Slap Happy" and even go acoustic on "Firehouse Mama," where he trades hyperactive riffs with neighbor Eric Sardinas. Harp master/vocalist James Harman (who, with his burly face and long white beard looks more like Moses everyday) and organist Deacon Jones bring comparative subtlety to the proceedings and alter the groove to a less frenzied attack than when Trout is trading licks with his guitar buddies. Guitar Shorty, Little Feat drummer Richard Hayward, and noted DJ Larry Keene whose articulated fast talking can be compared to Trout's own style on guitar also appear, the latter for a spoken word title cut finale that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Deep blues fans will still probably shy away due to the album's guitar heavy appeal and Trout's tendency to overextend his furious solos. But for the blues-rocker who loves a red blast of electricity and barrages of notes played with no-frills intensity, this is arguably Trout's most listenable, impressive, and diverse album yet.
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