2015’s ‘Battle Scars’ is an album that is as intense as the blues gets. A brutally honest, frequently harrowing look at Walter’s battle with cirrhosis of the liver (a battle that Walter very nearly lost), the album tells Walter’s story with disarming frankness and it stands as a masterpiece even if it can be a difficult listen. With his tale told, Walter is back with ‘We’re all in this together’ and, as if ‘Battle Scars’ lifted a giant weight from his soul, this album sees Walter at his playful best. A collaborative effort, ‘We’re all in this together’ features contributions from (amongst others) Sonny Landreth, Robben Ford, Eric Gales and, reproducing the highlight of the ‘Battle Scars’ tour, a guest appearance from Walter’s son, Jon. Walter, once more playing for his life, is the glue that binds the record together and his passion and enthusiasm for the blues radiates from the fourteen songs that make up the album.
The album kicks off with the slinky trad. blues of ‘Gonna Hurt Like Hell’ (featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd). With well-worn blues progressions underpinning the song, it’s down to Walter’s electrifying vocal and a series of dizzying solos to draw the song out from the conventional to the exceptional, and listening to it there’s very much a feeling that you’re hearing Walter and Kenny work their way through the song for the very first time – there’s a blissful spontaneity to it that raises the hair on the back of the neck and sends delicious chills down the spine – a feeling with which the listener will become familiar time and again over the course of this electrifying album. Next up, Walter invites the wonderful Sonny Landreth (the King of Slydeco) into the studio for the punchy ‘Ain’t going back’. Sonny’s style is such that you can spot it a mile off and it’s easy to imagine the huge smiles that must have abounded as he and Walter trade scratchy licks and vocal lines. The pace slows a touch for the dusty, desert blues of ‘the other side of the pillow’ (featuring Charlie Musselwhite), with its bittersweet tale of revenge, rich harmonica flourishes and Buddy Guy vibe. Walter keeps things light with the acoustic strum of ‘She listens to the blackbird sing’, which sees Mike Zito enter the fray, bringing a slight country vibe with him. It’s then on to ‘Mr Davis’, which sees the mighty Robben Ford bring his sublime guitar work to the party on an instrumental track that warmly celebrates the everlasting power of the solo to evoke emotion. ‘The sky is crying’, as you might expect from a track featuring Gov’t Mule main man Warren Haynes, has a loose, jammed out feel only for Eric Gales to throw the gates wide open on the hard rocking ‘somebody goin’ down’. Another survivor, Eric’s sheer joy at being alive brings out the fiery side of Walter, and the pair tear into the track with their guitars amped up a notch and the ghost of Freddie King possessing them both.
Kicking off the album’s second half with a soulful track, Edgar Winter joins Walter for ‘she steals my heart away’, a track that edges into Robert Cray territory with its smooth vocals and sensual horn section. The track brings a moment of much needed calm, but you can’t let a good party simmer for too long, and Joe Louis Walker steps in to kick things up a notch or ten with ‘crash and burn’, a track that recalls Walter’s own ‘Playing Hideaway’. With Walter crying out “lately baby, I don’t wanna hear the news” as he ponders on the way society seems hell bent on repeating the same mistakes, he and Joe lay down some weighty riffing to underscore their point, and solos scar the surface like lightning strikes. ‘Too much to carry’ (with John Nemeth) offers up another bout of dusty blues with the harmonica making another appearance but, whilst Walter may sing about getting old, there’s no mistaking the youthful energy that infuses his guitar work. An album highlight (no mean feat given the quality of what’s on offer), ‘Do you still see me at all’ sees the prodigious talent that is Jon Trout step out with his father, and the energy that flies between them is clear. As with the ‘Battle Scars’ tour where the sparks flew across the stage, Jon and his father share an intuitive sense of how to make the music fly, and I hope that there will be an opportunity for many more such collaborations in the future. Randy Bachman keeps Walter on his toes on the searing ‘got nothin’ left’ which turns out to be a blistering take on a familiar complaint before the album reaches its second peak, a collaboration between Walter and a harmonica-wielding John Mayall on the emotionally-charged ‘blues for Jimmy T.’ The album closes with the gargantuan title track, brought vividly to life by the irrepressible Joe Bonamassa. Eight-minutes of wonderment follow as Joe and Walter swap vocals and licks like men possessed. A perfect blues jam; ‘we’re all in this together’ takes the strengths of the album as a whole and reproduces them in one astonishing session that will leave jaws scraping the linoleum by the time it hits its fret-board destroying conclusion. It’s one hell of a way to close an album that feels, from the very start, like a raucous, after-hours party held in Walter’s garage.
Albums with multiple guests can be a somewhat schizophrenic experience. However, Walter is both experienced enough to retain control of the album’s overall direction and generous of spirit enough to give his guests the freedom to bring their own unique sound. As a result, the album feels like a genuine meeting of minds, where each guest brings their own vital presence to the record, but where the album as a whole feels like a coherent entity. ‘Battle scars’ was (and remains) a record to treasure, but where that record threw a harsh spotlight onto the realities of a life threatening illness, ‘We’re all in this together’ highlights the warm sense of community that lies at the core of the blues. This is something of which Walter has spoken many times, and here he provides the musical proof. Egos are checked at the door and everyone on this record sounds like they’re having a blast. It’s an inclusive party, too, and the listener feels welcomed into the album rather than left on the outside looking in. It is a joy to listen to, a thrilling tribute to the power of the blues and yet another reminder that Walter Trout is one of the finest bluesmen living today. Crank it up and let time drift by, this is a record to savour. 10