Robin Trower: Roots and Branches
Guitar virtuoso Robin Trower’s 31st (!) album pays homage to his musical roots and successfully blends in new tunes that underscore his legacy as a guitar god.
Trower’s cover choices, “Hound Dog,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “The Thrill is Gone,” That’s All Right Mama,” are a bit pedantic, but there’s nothing routine about his melodic vibrato and simmering solos. He reshapes each song, making it his own. There’s no teeth-rattling feedback or temple-piercing over-indulgent six-string torture turned up to eleven. Trower is a pro whose smooth, subtle style – dare I say it – surpasses that of Clapton, Page and even Beck.
The originals mirror some of Trower’s best work. The war drum beat of “When I Heard Your Name” lights the fuse for Trower’s incendiary playing. “Save Your Love” is dressed up by Luke Smith’s bluesy organ that counters Trower’s quiet, melancholy solos. The atmospheric “Sheltered Moon” harkens back to the Trower/James Dewar Bridge of Sighs days with dreamy guitar passages, poetic lyrics and a bass that pulsates like a lonely heart.
The only drawbacks are the lackluster vocals. Trower has a slack, occasionally emotionless tone and bassist Roberts Watts is equally bland. Forty years ago Trower had the insanely soulful James Dewar at the mic. He’s since recorded a trio of albums with leather-lunged legend Jack Bruce and has frequently utilized former Gamma/Montrose vocalist Davey Pattison. Any contribution from Pattison might have placed Roots and Branches among his other classics such as Twice Removed from Yesterday, In City Dreams or Victims of the Fury. But Pattison’s absence isn’t a deal breaker. Roots and Branches is all about Trower’s cathartic guitar work.
Hopefully someday his fellow artists will give Trower the overdue recognition he deserves by recording an album that celebrates his music.