Monday 20 November 2023

Robin Trower featuring Sari Schorr - Joyful Sky (2023)

Country: UK
Style: Blues Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Oct 2023
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I've reviewed a Robin Trower album this year already, but No More Worlds to Conquer came out in April 2022 and I trawled it into my traditional January catch-up of what I missed from the previous year. This one's new, from late October, and it's a very different beast to its predecessor. Of course, the focal point of all Trower's solo albums is his guitarwork but that 2022 album felt like an album of guitar with some token vocals; few songs felt like they were written as songs. This one feels like it was written as much for Sari Schorr's voice as for Trower's guitar.

And, in most instances, I think it was. Trower and Schorr share the same manager, Alan Robinson, who suggested that the former write a song for the latter. Liking what he heard, he chose instead to rework I Will Always Be Your Shelter for her voice. That was the closer on No Worlds to Conquer and it's the closer here too, but they're very different songs. There it was a ballad, a smooth one that gave Richard Watts plenty of opportunity to be tender and some to be raw and honest. Here, it's more spiritual in nature and Schorr is far more vehement, showing the hurt inside, to grab an important line from the lyrics.

After that song, this collaboration became a given and there are ten songs here to explore what a pair of musicians can do together. I say a pair, because I can't find any details about who else might be playing on it. Certainly, the usual instruments are here, but I don't know who's responsible. On that prior album, Trower played the bass himself in addition to guitar, but I doubt he also took on organ and drums, especially given that Chris Taggart has played the latter on his last few albums. But hey, I don't know. All I know is that I didn't and that's a good thing.

My favourite song here may be the opener, Burn, which is a real tease of a song. It's about trying to calm down a partner and the two participants we know play those characters. Schorr is infusing it with a smouldering fire and Trower's doing the calming, so much that he's almost minimal as it begins. It has to be said that he's aware that there's something of his classic work from the seventies on this album and this has the achingly slow pace and flow of Bridge of Sighs, even though the guitarwork is very different indeed. It's a peach of a song.

I'll Be Moving On and The Distance are more upbeat blues songs, relatively traditional but with a smoky small club vibe courtesy of Schorr. It's easy to imagine walking down the street in Memphis or any American city known for its live blues and catch snippets of this sort of thing and be enticed into a thousand different small blues clubs. Of course, few of the bands playing that music have as much abiding power as Trower and Schorr but that's just quality, not style.

The next song that stood out for me was Peace of Mind, which has a more distorted guitar. It's slow and heavy, almost an old school heavy metal song that's been stripped down and rearranged for a blues band. I could easily hear a stoner rock band speeding it back up and upping the amplification to bury us in fuzz. Other highlights are Change It, which is a funkier, more R&B song; the title track, if mostly because of its stellar guitar solo; and The Circle is Complete, which builds wonderfully, in part due to some excellent bass work. It feels like a big song from the outset but it has to grow into that over seven minutes, truly starting to do so about halfway.

And then there's I Will Always Be Your Shelter. I'm not the biggest fan of this sort of song, but I did list it as one of my highlights on No More Worlds to Conquer and I really ought to do that here too. It keeps growing on me like a rash. It's also a different enough song to everything else to stand out but not different enough to feel out of place. It's almost like a subtle punctuation mark to end the album and, in doing so, change the meaning of the whole thing. What we might think of the album might come down to what punctuation mark we think this song is. It might be an exclamation mark or even a question mark, but I think I'll take it as an em dash. Trower may be half a century into his solo career at this point but, despite the title of the previous album, he's clearly not done.

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