Tuesday, July 30, 2013

CD Review: Robin Trower "Roots And Branches" Release Date: 19 February 2013

'An artist's first responsibility is to himself.' - Miles Davis

Most of the songs on Roots And Branches are created around tight formal structures. The drums, bass and keyboards create a fine and subtle steady pulse throughout, which allow Robin Trower to perform some passionate and thoughtful soloing. Five of the eleven tracks are original compositions by Robin. The remaining six tracks are Robin's versions of songs that have inspired his appreciation of music, guitar playing and song writing.

From the opening track 'Hound Dog' it is evident that Robin continues to explore fresh ways of making music. In a sense, making music which enables Robin to escape from repeating himself in the studio, with the aim of furthering his musical development and, just as important, change. It is refreshing to hear Paul Jones soloing on harmonica over an ensemble which includes Luke Smith on keyboards. Robin's vocals remain a moot point. On this album, however, he sings with increased confidence, richer phrasing, and the end result is in harmony with the music.

Robin is definitely 'on the prowl' both in terms of vocals and playing on 'Little Red Rooster.' His guitar playing is alive with short incisive phrases during the verses, which create a wondrous crying sound. His guitar tone complements the hypnotic atmosphere sustained throughout the track. During the soloing Robin's performance is inspiring and bears all his memorable hallmarks: wide string bends, vibrato, slurs, and brooding phrases steeped in the blues. When Robin hits high notes with incredible vibrato during this track the outcome is moving and soulful. Truly a track of depth and brilliance.     

The track 'Shape of Things to Come' (placed at the center of the album) is, for me, a 'classic' Robin Trower song due to its intensity, atmosphere, and strident pulse. The rhythm section of Livingston Brown (bass) and Chris Taggart (drums) drive the song along as Robin solos with sustained vitality and depth.

The presence of 'That's Alright Mama' and 'Save Your Love' fall short of the standard set by the other tracks on the album. On 'That's Alright Mama' the clarity of the performance is hindered by the continued dialogue between Robin's guitar, the harmonica, keyboards, and rhythm section. I would have preferred a stripped down version of the song with the same pulse, emotion and structure. The restraint of 'Save your Love', while exuding a smooth sound, doesn't rise above slow standard twelve-bar blues.

The track 'See My Life' is a great climax to the album. Robin's guitar soloing highlights his range of feeling and improvisational skills at their finest. The addition of wah-wah to the effects adds to the lyrical and passionate sound.

Overall Roots And Branches contains moments of genuine inspiration and passion combined with a wide emotional range. I hope that Robin will tour sometime in the future and include some of the tracks of this album in his set list.                 

01. Hound Dog  (J. Leiber & M. Stoller)
02. The Thrill Is Gone  (R. Hawkins & R. Darnell)
03. When I Heard Your Name (Robin Trower)
04. Little Red Rooster  (Willie Dixon)
05. I Believe to My Soul  (Ray Charles)
06. Shape of Things to Come  (Robin Trower)
07. That's Alright Mama  (Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup)
08. Save Your Love  (Robin Trower)
09. Born Under a Bad Sign  (W. Bell & Booker T. Jones)
10. Sheltered Moon  (Robin Trower)
11. See My Life  (Robin Trower)


Robin Trower: Guitars and Vocals
Livingstone Brown: Bass Guitar
Richard Watts: Bass Guitar and Vocals
Chris Taggart: Drums
Luke Smith: Keyboards
Paul Jones: Harmonica