Trower is a more diverse player than sometimes given credit.
There’s a segment of the public that knows Robin Trower for his 1974 album Bridge of Sighs and little else. The 72 year old guitarist has made records that are equal to or above that effort, though, and some of them within the last decade. Trower remains almost frustratingly consistent in his output, an artist whose talents have so rarely faltered you wonder if he’s made some sort of deal with you-know-who to obtain his prodigious talent. The consistency of that talent can be found when one takes a wide view at the British guitarist’s discography, but glancing back at the string of releases from 2000’s Go My Way forward you’d be hard pressed to name another performer from the Trower’s generation who has repeatedly topped himself without leaning on his past glories.
That’s not to say that Trower doesn’t know his strengths. Chief among those is the slow burn brand of blues, a tantric ballad that allows the guitarist to simmer and smoke to his heart’s content. There are a few of those pieces here, though “Returned in Kind” may serve as the best example. His lead work throughout is inspired and moving, though what he whips out across the last minute or so of the track will go down as some of the best playing he’s committed to recorded history. His impeccable choice of bends, his singular sense of phrasing and the sheer feel of it all is shiver-worthy. Trower’s based in the blues but his notes never quite land exactly where you’d expect them; he doesn’t over emote and yet he’s not painfully restrained either. He aims for a certain emotional arc and hits it time and again with an almost extra human precision. Aside from The Cure’s Reeves Gabrels and John Scofield, it’s hard to think of many players who have that focus and who strike the emotional/melodic balance as effortlessly as Trower. He gives us plenty to marvel at here and his playing on another of those prolonged derangement of the senses pieces, “If You Believe in Me,” serves as a textbook example of how to burn and shine.
He is a more diverse player than sometimes given credit, as his 1990s work with Bryan Ferry exemplifies. He’s also one of those rare players whose rhythm work raises eyebrows with the same regularity as when he lets loose the pyrotechnics shed. His Hendrix-style work in “You’re the One” is one example of that as is the attitude-laced “I’m Gone.” It’s one of the few times he seems to have been touched by more contemporary sounds. It’s pure Trower to be certain but one can easily imagine a post-Kiko Los Lobos laying waste to track and emerging just as proud and victorious as he does.
There’s also a sense of the timely and topical here, especially during the opening “The Land of Plenty,” a song clearly aimed at the fading spirit of the age. It’s unexpected and, arguably, all the more powerful for it. That, in many ways, is the whole package of Trower: he consistently reaches for that thing you least expect from him and seizes it with quiet vigor and intelligence.
He’s aided in this endeavor by vocalist/bassist Livingstone Brown whose voice recalls the warmth of the late James Dewar, who lent his talents to the aforementioned Bridge of Sighs and other highlights from the 1970s. Brown and drummer Chris Taggart aren’t as much a backing band as two capable foils to Trower’s formidable talents. They don’t merely drop out of the picture because he’s soloing or because he’s the boss. Instead, they meet him, measure for measure, throughout, leaving listeners with the impression that this is the work of a full-fledged band.
It is of course but one that comes under the banner of Trower, a man whose talents remain as fresh and far-reaching as they long have been. Arguably, they’re better than they’ve been before, better than they were even just a few years ago and if that’s any indication of the evolution of the man’s talents, then what comes next from him will surely be his best yet. In the meantime, the aptly named Time and Emotion will have to do.