The sound is timeless.
Luke Winslow-King has the blues. So why does the Michigan-bred, New Orleans-based singer/songwriter/guitarist sound like he’s having so much freaking fun on his fifth album, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always? Truth is, that’s what the blues has always been about, from Delta juke joints to Chicago nightclubs to Beatles Brunches at B.B. King’s (just kidding with that last one, I swear). It’s about taking pain and sadness—inflicted by societal oppression, cruel fate or just a low down, no good woman—and turning it into, if not a reason to, party then at least a means of catharsis – a way of releasing a bit of the burden of that sorrow. In that way, Trouble Don’t Last is a spiritually authentic blues album. Winslow-King’s songs are bluntly concerned with romantic disillusionment and heartbreak, the result of the recent dissolution of his marriage, but are invariably performed with at least a veneer of hope and vigor. It’s certainly musically authentic as well, delving into early-to-mid-20th Century blues and R&B styles in unabashedly classicist fashion.
But as reverent as the album is toward the past—perhaps overly so at times—Winslow-King has somehow managed to make a contemporary blues album that sounds youthful and fresh. Hell of a feat. That’s not to say he has much, if anything, new or edgy to say on Trouble Don’t Last. This is an album geared toward an audience much older than Winslow-King’s own 33 years, not just because of the increasingly archaic musical forms he explores but also because of how polished he and his band sound. The album’s mix is nothing if not adult-friendly, all silky, glimmering Wurlitzer and (with a couple of exceptions) warm, friendly melodies. But in such a context, Winslow-King’s smooth, soulful blue-eyed croon is a revelation, elevating his forays into soul balladry from mere genre pastiches to heartstring-tugging, lived-in testimonies. He especially sells album bookends “On My Way” and “No More Crying Today,” both of which effortlessly meld elements of blues, soul and gospel while epitomizing Winslow-King’s penchant, on Trouble Don’t Last, for turning heartbreak into optimism and redemption.
Winslow-King’s voice also proves more versatile than just being applicable to soulful crooning. He sells hicky dejectedness on the fiddle-enhanced, shanty-like acoustic folk-country cut “Heartsick Blues,” for one. And perhaps most impressively, with “Change Your Mind,” he takes what is essentially a basic 8-bar country song in structural terms and finds its creamy melodic center, transforming it into irresistibly catchy Mellancamp-ish heartland rock. Granted, he’s slightly less convincing when imitating a Methodist pulpit-pounder on “Act Like You Love Me,” the only genre exercise on the album that feels anything less than perfectly natural.
As good as Winslow-King sounds behind the mic, however, Trouble Don’t Last’s moments of surprise and grit come not when he’s singing but when he’s playing guitar. Adopting a guttural bottleneck style that cuts a through line from Mississippi Fred McDowell through Muddy Waters, all the way to Jack White and Dan Auerbach, his swampy, stinging licks transform the title track into a stomping, fearsome beast of a blues rock workout. His bare bones intro to “On My Way” and foreboding leads on the slow burner “Louisiana Blues” have similarly atmospheric effects. His guitar playing—not unlike his songwriting on Trouble Don’t Last—is the sort of thing blues practitioners have been doing for a century. Based on his obvious indebtedness to his predecessors, it’s readily apparent that Winslow-King is more than self-aware enough to realize that. But when he does it this well, it doesn’t matter. The sound is timeless.