Walter Trout caps Morristown Jazz and Blues Fest with masterful set (REVIEW, PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

walter trout review

PHOTOS BY JAY LUSTIG

Walter Trout at the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival, with keyboardist Teddy “Zig Zag” Andreadis to the left.

Walter Trout offers everything you could possibly want in a blues artist. The veteran musician and New Jersey native — who headlined the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival on Sept. 17, outdoors on the Morristown Green — sings with commanding soulfulness and plays incendiary guitar solos. He also writes eloquent songs about his own life and talks about them at his shows — not a lot, but enough to add the necessary context — and has assembled one of the best bands in the business, featuring John Avila on bass, Teddy “Zig Zag” Andreadis on keyboards and Michael Leasure on drums. His set came off as true to blues traditions, but also deeply personal.

“Almost Gone” (from his 2015 album Battle Scars), he explained in Morristown, was about his own harrowing bout with hepatitis C. (As he usually does, he made sure to include a passionate speech about organ donation in the show, since his life was saved by a new liver).

The upbeat “Ride,” from his new album of the same name, was about his dreams of escaping the small-town life of his childhood, he said. “I live next to the railroad, and I can hear the train go rollin’ by/It shook the house, and it shook the bed, and it would always make my spirit fly … I would dream about the day when I could jump aboard and ride,” he sang.

He found himself writing a lot about his youth — he was born in Ocean City and later lived in the Camden County town, Laurel Springs — during the pandemic, he said, though the slow and moody “Waiting for the Dawn,” also from Ride, seemed like it was more about being mired in Pandemic Era depression.

Singer-guitarist Jackson Taylor Lee guested on “We’re All in This Together,” originally recorded as a duet by Trout and Joe Bonamassa. Lee later returned for the encore, a Chuck Berryesque arrangement of “Bullfrog Blues” (which asks the intriguing question, “Did you ever wake up with bullfrogs on your mind?”).

Veronica Lewis at the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival.

Trout mentioned that he used to play the song with Canned Heat in the ’80s; he also played in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers during that decade before starting to concentrate on his solo career. And he’s been incredibly prolific since then: Ride is his 30th album.

Trout, like most of the artists at this year’s Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival (an annual event since 2011), has played at it before. The lone exception was the second-to-last act, Veronica Lewis, a piano-pounding blues prodigy — she’s 19 years old — from New Hampshire who released her debut album, You Ain’t Unlucky, last year.

Fronting a four-piece band, she played classics (Big Joe Turner’s “Boogie Woogie Country Girl,” Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” Leroy Carr’s languid “How Long Blues”) along with high-energy originals.

Very entertaining stuff, though her self-written songs seemed a bit formulaic. Totally understandable given that she’s still a teenager, for goodness’ sake, but when you’re right next to a fully realized artist like Trout on the bill, it’s hard not to notice.

Bria Skonberg with keyboardist Will Delisfort at the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival.

I wasn’t able to get to the all-day festival until 5 p.m. or so, and missed the first two sets, by James Langton’s New York All-Star Big Band (featuring Dan Levinson) at noon, and Frank Vignola’s Guitar Night at Birdland Band (featuring Ken Peplowski) at 2 p.m.

But I did see the last half hour by the third artist on the bill, trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg, and was impressed by her sultry “Blackout,” her explosive, set-closing “I Want to Break Free” (yes, the Queen song) and her hard-swinging encore, “Night Time Is the Right Time” (though it was a bit odd to listen to this song in the late afternoon, with the sun still shining).

I’ve seen Skonberg perform at this fest before, and feel that while she has always been excellent musically, her stage presence and showmanship have grown quite a bit, over the years.

Next year’s festival, organizer Don Jay Smith announced during the show, will be on Sept. 23. Visit morristownjazzandblues.com. (The festival will be free, as usual.)

Thanks to Kevin Coughlin of Morristown Green for posting these great videos:

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