Some years ago, the old television import This Is Your Life was revived on British television. I don’t think it’s still running in the UK, but no doubt if the show were liable to feature the blues guitarist and singer Walter Trout, its researchers would be very grateful for the present CD.
The circle of the title is a reference to this set being a studio reunion with John Mayall—whose Blues Breakers were sometime distinguished by Trout’s fairly startling talents as guitarist—and with a lot of other people Trout has worked and recorded with over the years. But the playing here would be more (metaphorically) stunning if the CD didn’t tend so much toward the literally stunning. This wasn’t a quiet reunion.
With the exception of “Firehouse Mama”, on which Trout sings and plays harmonica and acoustic guitar, and Eric Sardinas does the first and third of these, this is a loud record. It makes a lot of noise when the volume control isn’t turned that far up, and when the volume control is turned down reasonably low, the detail of the music just isn’t there. I get the impression the music was very loud anyway. There would hardly be an engineering blunder that really required the CD be played loud if all the detail was to be delivered by the speakers: apparently itself without distortion, though ears may have problems.
Can it be that Trout’s career with all these people playing music a great distance from pianissimo has impaired his hearing? “Firehouse Mama” is actually dubbed at a high level too.
With James Harman on harmonica and vocals and Rob Rio on piano, “A Busy Man” is a pretty terrific Chicago blues band performance. For variety, there’s the instrumental “Slap Happy”, with Junior Watson duetting on guitar with Trout, somewhat after the fashion of the young Les Paul, with echoes of T-Bone Walker: jazz input into blues (it needs to be remembered that, like Paul and B.B. King, several influential people heard Django Reinhardt records fairly early). Another instrumental is Avery Parrish’s “After Hours”, with Deacon Jones playing the piano part on Hammond B3, and Trout soloing in impassioned Kingly (Freddie, Albert, B.B.) manner on guitar before adding support to an organ solo which, as the saying goes, swings like….
Radio daze: On the last track Larry Keene delivers a monologue beginning in 1960s deejay speak, discussing the history of Walter Trout and radioland. “Greatest of all the cats and the kitties from the hills and the cities,” we are told we have been presented on the preceding tracks, the rocking and jazz-cliché-quoting music playing behind him at a level above which he doesn’t have to (five letters, begins with “sh” and rhymes with Trout).
These guys sure can play: Gene Bonamassa, Guitar Shorty, Bernard Allison, Mayall, Coco Montoya. We are assured a lot of this was honestly jammed music—few rehearsals, mostly first takes, no guitar fixes, and no major edits—except where things went wrong because Trout’s headphones fell off.
He recorded this wearing headphones? I suppose that’s not unusual. Maybe he didn’t know the CD would play this loud? I was unable to listen to it very attentively very often, but maybe I could recommend this set as something which could be blasted over the tannoy of an outdoor festival.