Walter Trout: Battle Scars
For any glass-half-empty bluesman, happiness is bad for business. When Walter Trout survived last year’s 11th-hour liver transplant, his earliest attempts at comeback material were hobbled by lyrics he described as “smell-the-roses bullshit”. Thankfully, the veteran bandleader changed tack, revisiting the hellish wait for a donor in hospital, and spitting out this emotionally bare concept album.
Trout’s masterstroke on Battle Scars is to twin his lyrical woes with music that’s visceral, uplifting and searingly well-executed – the guitarist’s chops and voice are back, with a vengeance. Almost Gone opens with the blackest of gambits (‘I can’t shake the feeling that I won’t last too long’), but rattles the speakers with gale-force harp and harmony vocals.
Please Take Me Home slips a lyric about Trout dying in his wife’s arms beneath a Stonesy strum. Tomorrow Seems So Far Away is a roaring blues-rocker that makes the nocturnal machinations of intensive care sound truly compelling. To have Trout back is a pleasure. To hear him back at the top of his game is a revelation. (9⁄10)
Danielle Nicole: *Wolf Den*
Previously the lungs behind Kansas City soul-rockers Trampled Under Foot, Nicole shows her talent off here. Mostly co-written with producer Anders Osborne, these 12 tracks are New Orleans in excelsis, a fusion of squelchy bass, syncopated drums, handclaps and blow-the-doors-off vocals. Best is Take It All, which sounds like a mildewed 45, discovered while clearing the personal effects of a funky uncle. (8⁄10)
Willis Earl Beal: *Noctunes*
An ex-soldier who was briefly tipped to be the next big thing on the XL label, Willis Earl Beal fell instead into alcoholism and vagrancy. Somehow, his voice remains – a ghostly, spellbinding croon that swims through wastelands of strings and synths, making Noctunes unfold like an alternative soundtrack to Twin Peaks. Put it on your car stereo, then drive all night. (7⁄10)
Brother Dege: *Scorched Earth Policy*
Louisiana’s Dege Legg (aka Brother Dege) is a one-man melting pot. Put it down to his ancestry (Cajun/French/Irish/Native American) or his influences (Black Sabbath to Bukowski), but this album is thrillingly light on its feet, smashing resonator riffs into tree-hugging Indian ragas. If that sounds too WOMAD, try the brutal opening track, Set It Off. (7⁄10)
Joe Louis Walker: *Everybody Wants A Piece*
If JLW’s output – 12 albums in 13 years – suggests a bang-’em-out attitude, then Everybody Wants A Piece proves the 65-year-old isn’t on autopilot. Along with blues and gospel, Witchcraft is funky, Black And Blue is hooky 80s radio pop and Buzz On You’s descending keyboard line keeps you guessing. Walker fans don’t go hungry, but you’ll still want a piece. (7⁄10)