Bentley’s Bandstand: Walter Trout, Avett Brothers, Hi-Nobles

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Walter Trout Unspoiled By Progress Provogue Records

BB150Walter Trout is a working bluesman. He’s played with an endless list of other musicians, including years with John Mayall, as well as long fronting a ruthless group of his own. Unspoiled By Progress is a stellar collection of odds and ends from the past twenty years, including several new songs that prove this man just never stops growing. “They Call Us the Working Class” is a modern anthem for these cash-strapped times, and gives truth to how the blues always comes to the psychic rescue when things get tough. Other songs are from a live 1991 session at the BBC’s London studio, several from Perq’s Niteclub in Huntington Beach, two from the famous Paradiso in Amsterdam and one from a casino in Las Vegas. Trout works the waterfront, to be sure, and always has a kicking band behind him. Besides his searing originals, he has an uncanny eye for covers, as Finis Tasby, Buddy Guy, Don Nix songs, along with Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” are fittingly wailed on. It’s sometimes too easy to overlook those who are out there keeping blues alive these days. It may not be the most spotlight-grabbing endeavor, but in a lot of ways it’s the one that keeps audiences coming back year in and year out to remember how one America’s proudest achievements is such a valuable asset. A shining moment of the set is “Sweet as a Flower,” where Trout’s guitar takes off in flight from the very first note. It’s an elegant and impassioned triumph, and leaves no doubt this is one musician who has the gift inside him. Late bassist Jimmy Trapp co-wrote the song with Trout, and it’s a fitting memorial to a mighty man. “So Afraid of the Darkness,” recorded last March in London, is the sound of a man confronting his deepest fears and not flinching. If that’s not he blues, nothing is.

The Avett Brothers I And Love And You American Recordings

BBind150Simplicity may be the hardest achievement of all. It is something that can’t be forced. It’s almost like breathing. If you try too hard, it starts to become labored. Letting go is the key, and in music it is a gift of creation to find that special place. The Avett Brothers have known exactly where it lives for a very long time. Their music goes there on its own, like it should, and stays right where it belongs. They have made some of the most striking albums of the past few years, taking music from the mountains and the sky and bringing it down to earth with the ease of natural-born storytellers and inspired craftsmen. Scott and Seth Avett have been touched by the hand of heavenly sound, and with Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon are forging ahead into American music with an eye for detail and an ear for excitement. The band doesn’t make much fuss; that wouldn’t work at all. What they do is turn songs like “January Wedding,” “Laundry Room” and “Ill with Want” into miniature emotional anthems, like they know there is so much to be learned by narrowing life down to its finest moments. Whether happy or sad is almost beside the point. The Avett Brothers tell the truth, which is probably the biggest secret to simplicity anyway. Producer Rick Rubin is smart enough to help these men stay true to themselves, and like simplicity, is an act easier said than done. I And Love And You is the music of the spheres brought right down to the streets we know so well. There won’t be many more moving albums released this year. Shine on.

The Hi-Nobles Shake Zaentz Records

bbShake150Is psyche-soul a style yet? If   not, it should be and the Hi-Nobles might think about getting the patent on it. This collection of bad boys rushes head on into the world of rhythm & blues, but does it in a way that turns everything upside down just enough to be new. Lead singer Scott Holderby sounds like he’s been holding down a corner cell at San Quentin for a few years, toughening his vocal cords into a shredded blend of light and darkness. The best thing, though, is he makes no apology for either. He just bears down on the words like a man with a knife in his hand, and you better like what you hear or he might decide to do a little getting even. The rest of the Hi-Nobles are just as bad, and include Avengers guitarist Greg Ingraham with a sound straight out of San Francisco’s Tenderloin love pit. They aren’t out to win any peace-and-love contest, that’s for sure. There was a period in the early ‘80s when music like this was bouncing hard around the clubs of Los Angeles with Beachy & the Beachnuts, Phast Phreddie & thee Precisions, King Cotton & the Kingpins and Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs. Cow-punk and the Paisley Underground more or less put an end to it, but soul clearly still beats in the hearts of the devoted with undiminished fervor. Thankfully, the Hi-Nobles feel like they have the fever, and are on a mission to bring back the music of lust and distrust. For those who ran for the hills when the Blues Brothers took R&B into the comedy bins, let it be known it’s now safe to go back onto the dance floor. Start with Shake, and don’t forget to stir.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to

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