Monday, August 18, 2003

Trout brings mix of old-school, new age blues to Southgate

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Guitar-slinging youngsters like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd play theaters, sell CDs and generally do quite well for themselves. So shouldn't one of their elders - one with solid blues-rock credentials who's already a European-festival headliner - be entitled to his share of the American market?

We're speaking of California resident Walter Trout, a veteran of both Canned Heat and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and a sideman for John Lee Hooker, among others. Trout stated his case Sunday night, as the singer-guitarist and his band the Radicals played its brand of fiery Chicago blues and blues-rock to a Southgate House crowd of 350.

The show was Trout's Newport debut, after a string of six sellout performances over the past four years at the now-defunct Lucille's Blues Club. Trout and his band, which includes bassist James Trapp, drummer Joe Pafumi and keyboardist Sammy Aliva, played two 80-minute sets.

Trout is a technically gifted player; there's no denying that. How he applies his prodigious talents is what separates the fans - those people who swooned with every flurry of notes - from the skeptics.

He opened the first set with the blues classic "Dust My Broom," and as was the case with many of the selections that followed, he and the band found its groove in a mid-tempo shuffle. But a bit too much guitar showiness topped off the shuffle, and "Dust My Broom" owed as much to Eddie Van Halen as to Elmore James.

This wasn't a purist act. This is what the fans wanted - bombastic blues. The fast numbers were a chance to play as loud as possible. The slow ones were made for Pafumi to flip his sticks in the air between each note. If that wasn't enough, Pafumi also was allotted time for a solo at the end of each set.

If Trout's over-the-top guitar pyrotechnics don't have most of his contempo-blues contemporaries beat, his singing does. A deep, guttural voice and a good sense of delivery and phrasing combine to make him a convincing singer of both classic blues material and his own blues-rock compositions.

He played lots of his own stuff, including several songs from his latest album, Relentless. Other than "Work No More," a poignant tribute to a dead friend that matched "Dust My Broom" in its emotional depth, most of the new songs came off like generic rock.



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