Sunday, February 27, 2011
Album Review: Robin Trower, The Playful Heart
Artist: Robin Trower
Title: the playful heart
By the time Jimi Hendrix got done with the blues – there was a whole new branch in the artform. Yes, he honored the past but he is as significant to contemporary blues as Muddy Waters was to the ‘electric blues.’ With the advent of Hendrix’s influence the door was open to “rock” players using blues textures to emote beyond three chords and a cloud of dust. When the gates finally fell, the hackneyed as well as the credible came in: as it is with all artforms. Since his well received 1974 release, ‘Bridge of Signs’ Britain’s Robin Trower has struggled to focus his interpretation of Jimi’s muse against an unfriendly field of music critics. While there have been peaks over the past 37 years – much of the catalogue is resigned to an adamant niche of disciples. The sense that greatness is within reach resides on many of Trower’s outings is a scab that lingers; unitchable and annoying.
With the release of ‘the playful heart’ former Procol Harem (Lighter Shade of Pale) member Robin Trower has arrived with the finest release of his career.
In 1974, as a 14 year I began my official life long dalliance with Trower’s career by taking the Greyhound to attend his concert in Lincoln, Nebraska. Unrecognized until recently, Tommy Bolin’s edition of the band Moxy opened the show. And like a fetid marriage – the love affair with Trower’s music was arduous, hopeful and frustrating. When vocalist (and original bass player) Jimmy Dewer left the band there were many times when it was more out of routine allegiance than affection that the romance continued…
On the first listen of, ‘Find Me’ to realize that it is that rare, perfect, moment when an artist fully realizes his muse and is able to share it.
Trower’s guitar playing has been consistent; under-playing and highly textured. However the vocals for the band have been its weakest link. When Davey Pattison joined Trower as a vocalist, the magic was back. ‘The Playful Heart’ was recorded with his touring band: vocalist Pattison, drummer Pete Thompson and bassist Glenn Letsch. The album was produced by Livingston Brown (Tina Turner, Bryan Ferry and Sting).
‘The Playful Heart’ is a balanced album where vocals, song writing, performances and arrangements fit together with a synergy that has been missing. Programmers will find that the fifth track, ‘Find Me’ opens up the album. It is a languid tune where the band slips into a groove that allows Trower’s guitar playing to arc and bend above the lyric lines. ‘The Tuning’ is a high energy echo of ‘Too Rolling Stoned.’ The use of whispers in the chorus gives a haunted feel much as it did for The Doors song, ‘Riders on the Storm.’ Like ‘Too Rolling Stoned,’ ‘The Turning’ slows tempo at the three minute mark giving the listener a sense of a panoramic soundscape. Other strong songs include a rockin’, ‘Song for Those While Fell’ and the ballad, ‘Maybe I Can Be a Friend.’ And while I would not say it is jazz, the ninth track, ‘Camille’ uses jazz chords and a light touch to give a late night, candle-lit lounge feel.
Whether an established bluesrock fans that missed Trower’s ‘70’s heyday, or a former fan, this is an excellent album that you will find comfortable and familiar. For die-hard blues purists, unless you choose to follow the thread from Albert King to Jimi Hendrix and beyond, this is probably not an album you will enjoy. For existing fans, this album justifies Trower’s persistence. It is his second “great” record. Young listeners repeatedly demonstrate a fondness for the ‘60’s golden period of Rock, this album cements that bridge between the bygone era of “rock stars” to contemporary electric blues.