I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always

Luke Winslow-King

Bloodshot Records, 2016


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s maxim is pretty much inescapable when listening to what feels like not just a break-up album, but perhaps the break-up album, of recent memory at least. Granted, it’s a subject matter as old as song itself, but rather than obeying Rock Critic Law (“All break-up albums must be compared with Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks”), let’s simply say this is a terrifically candid, courageous, musically engaging album chronicling the end of a great love.

Luke Winslow-King’s third album for Bloodshot Records, fifth overall, and first not to feature his ex-wife on harmony vocals, carries this haunting dedication: “This album is dedicated to Esther Rose King. I wish you well. Thank you for helping me to better understand the true nature of love and loss. I feel more alive for knowing.” The music that follows—a heady melange of down-and-dirty Delta blues, New Orleans-inflected r&b, and loping, twangy country-blues—is rendered with all the conviction that dedication might imply, plus tremendous technical precision, managing to feel loose, confident and utterly genuine in its embrace of classic American genres.

The track list for I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always throws the five stages of grief in a hat and plucks them out in random order. In a clever move, Winslow-King begins at the end, with acceptance, in the form of the warm, optimistic road song “On My Way.” Over nimble guitar picking and sunny Hammond organ, he sings “I’m on my way / To the land of  the living / I can’t be hindered, won’t be let astray / Baby, when I’m on my way / You’ll never bend or break me / When I’m on my way.”

From there we rewind and travel through anger (the dark, steely blues of the title track), denial (“Change Your Mind,” with its plaintive refrain “I still believe / You are all I need”), bargaining (“Heartsick Blues,” which name-checks a passel of weepy country classics), anger again (the foot-tapping, finger-snapping tell-off “Act Like You Love Me”), depression (the even darker “Louisiana Blues”), and back around to acceptance with the pure gospel uplift of closer “No More Crying Today.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The lacerating honesty of the dedication carries through to the lyrics. “See, I’ve never really had to lose / Now I’m learning how it feels to choose, good Lord / Between fighting and heartsick blues,” he sings. “I know you loved me baby, even though you lied / And one of these days when we’re looking back / We’ll both know that we tried.”

Said honesty blows right through any constraints or inhibitions when Winslow-King addresses his ex by name in the smoky, dangerous “Esther Please,” decorating a barroom blues with a conversational narrative that progresses from puzzlement (“Esther please, tell me what’s gone wrong with you”), to pleading (“I asked her please, ‘tell me, what can I do?’ / How could you baby, leave a love that’s so true?”), to a burning, red-eyed fury (“When the worry turns to trouble baby, evil ain’t far behind / You left me with murder, evil on my mind”).

Still, the pivotal moment feels like it arrives in the midst of the spare country-blues “Watch Me Go,” when he cuts right to the chase: “Go on, tell me if you love me / Tell me if you love me / Tell me if you love me / Otherwise, watch me go.” You can hear in his voice that he’s resigned, that he’s long since sensed the answer in his gut, but he just has to force the issue, has to hear her say the words, before he can walk away.

Throughout, Winslow-King’s attention to detail is tremendous. Every arrangement is constructed to amplify the emotional tenor of the song, from the echoey tone and thick cymbals of the spooky title tune to the pleading harmonica on “Change Your Mind,” the weeping fiddle on “Heartsick Blues,” and the basement-level bass tones on the “Lousiana Blues,” almost too low to register. The breakdown on the teasing country-funk number “Act Like You Love Me” even throws in a cowbell, before turning the organ and guitar loose for a heavy jam at the finish.

The album closes out in top form with the “No More Crying Today,” a gospel-tinged song of redemption that finds Winslow-King asking “Won’t you help me find forgiveness, help me find a way?” Two verses and choruses carry the song through 2:50, at which point everything but the church organ drops out and Winslow-King delivers a minute-long, steady-building slide guitar solo that is a thing of purest beauty, all at once an elegy for lost love and an anthem of renewed hope. As the song begins to fade, he repeats “There’ll be no more crying today” over and over like a mantra, as his guitar cries out over and over in counterpoint. Goosebumps.

As for points of comparison, there’s a bit of a Tedeschi Trucks Band feel in places here, that rich country-blues-Americana stew, but the fellow Winslow-King reminds me of even more is Lyle Lovett—a modern traditionalist who combines precision musical craftsmanship with heartfelt, writerly lyrics. I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always reels you in with easy confidence before opening a vein all over the floor.

Rating: A

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© 2016 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bloodshot Records, and is used for informational purposes only.