There tend to be more best of year metal lists than rock lists, so I dug around to find the latter and accidentally noticed that, while I was wandering around the UK on a research trip last April, Robin Trower released a new album, and so that immediately became my number one priority to review. For those who don't know this legend of British rock music, he's been around for a long time and it would be highly recommended that you check out his back catalogue, starting with the 1974 album Bridge of Sighs, which was his second solo release after leaving Procul Harum.
He's a massively influential British blues rock guitarist, enough that people like Robert Fripp have studied under him, and he's kept on putting out new solo albums for the past half century. In fact, the first, Twice Removed from Yesterday, will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in March. This appears to be his twenty-sixth studio album and it highlights how he hasn't lost a bit of his power over all that time. His guitar remains delicious, even if it doesn't soar as often as it used to, and it shines from the very first song, Ball of Fire, a solid but relatively routine rocker to kick things off.
The album lit up for me when it slowed down for the title track. It's not Bridge of Sighs, but it plays in the same ballpark and it's a good song with some great guitarwork from Trower. Deadly Kiss is slower still, but with a funk edge, before Trower starts bending strings as only he can. It's clear at this point that these is going to be a collection of loose tracks that mostly exist as frameworks for Trower's guitar, hardly a surprising approach and not a particularly flattering one for musicians of this calibre but an understandable one nonetheless. By the time we get to Birdsong four in, it's as if it only exists for guitar and the vocals are just an added bonus.
A few songs late in the album feel like songs as well as showcases for Trower's guitar. Cloud Across the Sun is a solid blues number, if nothing particularly surprising. It kicks off like it's something off a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, but if Trower ever thought about showing off the way Stevie did, he's quick to restrain himself, even though this is one of the more up tempo songs on the album. He has a different, mellower mood in mind and, while there are levels of intensity here, they're all on the scale from mellow to mellower.
Case in point, Fire to Ashes is softer but a little more overt as a song, Richard Watts getting his teeth a bit more into this one. I like the balance in his voice between smooth and grit and he has a nice subtle sustain that works wonderfully on this sort of slow song. Sure, Trower takes over as it runs on, but both are notable here. The Razor's Edge adds some, well, edge before the drop down to the smoothest material wraps up with the smoothest, I Will Always Be Your Shelter wrapping up the album as the most overt ballad. It's the first song that feels like it's there for Watts as much as Trower.
And what all this means is that it's hard to decide on a favourite song because they're all much of a muchness, the truest song coming out on top, namely that closing ballad. It makes far more sense to talk about a favourite solo, because that's what this album is all about, Trower's glorious guitar, and that's still not an easy choice because everything here is good on that front. Maybe I might go for The Razor's Edge, maybe the title track, maybe that closer again. Who knows. It's the one that I have playing right now, whichever that happens to be.
Trower plays both guitar and bass on this album, as he's been doing for a while, but the latter isn't remotely as notable as the former. As a guitarist, he elevates every song here. As a bassist, he just adds the necessary support. Regular collaborator Chris Taggart provides the drums while Richard Watts brings his smooth and soulful voice to the mix for the first time. When there's organ, like on Fire to Ashes, that's provided by Paddy Milner.
And that's it. If you've never heard Trower before, this is as good an introduction as any to one of the pivotal guitarists of the rock era. It's far from his best album, though, and these are far from the best songs. It's all beautiful guitar music linked together by a capable vocalist to keep it fresh. Like I said, check out Bridge of Sighs, especially if you're a guitarist yourself, and weep at what he could do with his instrument. Then listen to this and realise that he can still do it all half a century on. Finally, pick up everything in between.