Luke Winslow-King’s new album, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, begins like you’d expect one of his albums to begin: killer bottleneck riffing and sonic space. Then, it quickly becomes something unexpected. He’s no longer playing stripped-down, front porch-blues. He’s moved boldly into the realm of contemporary blues players (Gary Clark, Jr. is an apt comparison) with a full band, with any trace of whimsy eradicated, and Winslow-King’s fine voice prominent. It doesn’t sound like him, though. Not the him that we’ve come to expect.
Luke Winslow-King has gone through a serious life change, and he’s made an album about it. After a divorce from his wife and musical partner, Esther Rose, Winslow-King has moved on in a significant way. And it totally works.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure that Luke Winslow-King’s new direction would work for me. I’ve been a fan for ages, and loved that his throwback, simple style was something that just wasn’t being done by current blues artists. I don’t usually love contemporary blues, and certainly didn’t want Winslow-King to sound like anyone but himself. I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always is surprising, and effective. He could be the Next Big Thing, and why not? He’s got the chops, he’s got the voice, and he’s got the look.
It’s a much heavier outing than Winslow-King’s previous work. The title track is swampy and sultry, with broken heart lyrics imbuing the song. Benji Bohannon, Winslow-King’s longtime drummer, turns out some fine work here (and consistently through the album). Sadness is cloaked in hummable melodies, like on the radio-friendly “Change Your Mind,” which is more than a little Petty-esque, right down to the shimmering harmonies on the chorus. “Heartsick Blues” is a very effective song of having one’s heart crushed, with mourning fiddle from Matt Rhody. There’s a palpable ache in Winslow-King’s voice, and the track is a spare, subdued campfire cowboy song. It’s a standout track in a very fine album.
I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always is like a manual on how to deal with divorce and grieving. There’s the dark, rumbling Delta blues of “Esther Please,” a plea with breathy, trailing off vocals (his subdued, murmured, “I’ll be waiting” is just crushing). The plea for closure of “Watch Me Go” is heartrending. Winslow-King’s voice is impassioned and it’s impossible not to feel his pain. The heartbreaks turns to anger hidden in a jaunty organ riff on “Act Like You Love Me.” It could be an old school Stones song (which, of course, used to be blues) as it rocks and raves. The closer, “No More Crying Today” is hopeful and healing, a fitting end for the album. The listener travels the stages of grief and loss with Luke Winslow-King, and ends on an up note. A major chord rather than a minor, and you get the feeling that he’s going to be okay. Eventually.
It took a few listens to really buy into Luke Winslow-King’s new direction. It’s all electrified and so strange. It’s not that he doesn’t work as a contemporary artist, he does. It’s just taken the thing that made him unique and changed it entirely. Though, it makes sense. If you lose your musical partner, why not do an entire pivot and do something else? Why not broaden horizons and try to make a little cash?
But it’s grown on me. By the end of the I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, I was sold. It’s a revealing, heartfelt album, and Luke-Winslow King has the raw talent to make any style of playing work beautifully. This may be his big breakthrough. Here’s hoping.
I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always was released September 30 by Bloodshot Records.