cream of the crate cd review #3: bob dylan – biograph
cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
Essential Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

"I've always been the first to admit that Jimi [Hendrix] was a very big influence ...." - [Robin Trower]

Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews.  
The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as  
CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency 
with the published CD reviews.

 

This is number four in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD’s in my personal collection. The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

So here we are at CD Review#4!

We have had a retro-review of one of the most bizarre groups to ever have developed a cult, and legitimate following – The Fugs, then I reviewed one of the classiest and best blues players – Robert Johnson. Then came review #3 and I realised that in the fifty vinyl LP reviews that I had done in this series (and there are more to come), I had left out Bob Dylan, the man who really shook the 1960’s!

So who would I feature in CD Review #4?

This required some consideration. I needed to go through my CD shelf, and not choose blues, not ‘off-the-planet and not someone who influenced the 60’s.

I looked at my CD’s collection of 40’s and 50’s music, and there are some that stand out, but, I have decided to move into 1970, with an artist who cut his teeth in the 1960’s and, is an outstanding guitarist!

I have chosen Robin Trower!

Now this CD, “Essential” was released in 1991 on the Chrysalis label (F2 21853).

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]
The music emanates from the early 1970’s onward.

Yes! it is a compilation album, in fact his 3rd of four and in my mine 9and ears)(, the best. 

At the time of writing this in 2013, Robin Trower had in fact released nineteen (19) studio albums and nine live albums.

 

This does not include works with other artists, such as three with Bryan Ferry and five with Jack Bruce. Nor does it include the eight albums made with Procol Harem.

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
From the accompanying bookl

 

In order to understand Robin Trowers music I need to revisit his years with Procol Harem, and earlier.

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
Trower in Procol Harem – [CLICK to enlarge]
Essex England, and the Paramounts led by Gary Brooker and Robin Trower which including Chris Copping and B.J. Wilson, scored a moderate British success in 1964, with their version of the Leiber and Stoller classic – Poison Ivy.That track reached number 35 in the UK Singles Chart.

In April 1967, Brooker began working as a singer-songwriter and formed Procol Harem
with Robin Trower playing guitar from 1967 – 1971. After leaving Trower  returning briefly in 1991.

 

Now Procol Harem were, in my opinion, a very good group but by no means a great group. Likewise, Trowers playing whilst in Procol Harem vacillated between acceptable and very good.

When he was at his best he was very, very good but there were many times when he was just plain ordinary.

Procol Harem

 

So it came to no surprise that he left in 1971 to pursue his own musical dream.

He teamed with various artists such as Jethro Tull drummer, Clive Bunker; singer Frankie Miller and bassist, James Dewar.

Despite touring regularly no recordings eventuated and it wasn’t until 1973, when he formed the Robin Trower Band, that really good things began to consolidate.

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
Robin Trower Band – circa early 1974

 

Hooking up with drummer Bill Lourdan and having kept Dewar on bass – Trower began to really refine his style as well as adapting some elements of Jimi Hendrix style of playing.

Trower was quite taken with Hendrix’s ability to hammer and bend the notes on his guitar and he made no bones about copying that style of playing.

The groups first album, Twice Removed From Yesterday went gold, and indeed their following FOUR albums were all certified gold.

My ears tell me that it was the second album, Bridge Over River Sighs that was his greatest work and an album in my collection.

It really is a magnificent album that showcases not only his amazing guitar abilities, but his compositional skills as well.

So we come to the album under review – Essential.

In some ways it is essential as it does provide a great cross-section of his work, styles and provides us with the best tracks from each of those 5 gold albums.

It provides us with sixteen tracks and over 75 minutes of music so there is little question of value for money, be it quantity or quality!

Track Listing

  1. Too Rolling Stoned (7:32)
  2. Lady Love (3:20)
  3. Bridge Of Sighs (10:28)
  4. Daydream (6:21)
  5. Shame The Devil (3:34)
  6. Hannah (5:21)
  7. Messin’ The Blues (3:50)
  8. Pride (3″06)
  9. Althea (4:12)
  10. Confessin’ Midnight (5:51)
  11. Victims Of The Fury (3:43)
  12. Gonna Be More Suspicious (3:05)
  13. Sweet Wine Of Love (3:00)
  14. I Can’t Wait Much Longer (5:17)
  15. Into Money (2:53)
  16. Bluebird (5:30)

I do like “Too Rolling Stoned” from the moment an incredibly tight bass guitar/drum kicks in, and Robin jumps in with rocking guitar.

The move from uptempo and being dropped into down-tempo works beautifully. I did find a video version, so I have left you to listen to the music when you visit the video later on.

I’ll move down to track #2 “Lady Love” (also from the Bridge Of Sighs album).

Lady Love would never win any prizes for brilliant lyrics, however, as simple as their construction is, the track is a rather funky piece of music and because the lyrics aren’t demanding, it’s easy to see why listeners tend to sing along.

It has a great guitar riff and again showcases Trowers mastery of guitar.

A bonus is, that this is a live version, proving that he is just at home on the stage as he is in the studio.

Lady Love (Live)

There is no doubt in my mind that the very best track on this album is “Bridge Of Sighs“.

It is quite a magnificent piece of work and I could imagine Mr J.M Hendrix feeling very comfortable playing this piece.

The song is very well written and the sound that Trower produces is “about” as good as it gets.

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
Playing Bridge of Sighs – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The reference to Hendrix should in no way be seen as a slight on Trower, and while I think he has worked hard to master the techniques of Hendrix, post this album he worked hard to throw off the constant measurement of him against JH – which frankly is ridiculous because despite how good this track is, Trower is still no Hendrix!

I found a good live version on Youtube, and so I have put it in the ‘Video’ section of this review. So while I generally don’t play both the album and live version of a track in the one review, this track deserves that extra bit of particular treatment.

Most composers have a ‘magnum opus‘, a piece of work that really stands out, and the track “Bridge Of Sighs” is Robin Trowers.

From the moment the bells ring, and a classic JH style piece of guitar reaches our ears, we know, we feel, this is a powerful piece of music.

Then the drums and bass drop in, kind of providing an exclamation mark to a musical statement.

I will be fairly critical of Trowers lyrical abilities throughout this review, but this track is outstanding for all the right reasons, including the lyrics!

Incidentally, the “Bridge of Sighs” is the eminent Ponte de Sospiri bridge in Venice. It was given the nickname “Bridge of Sighs” was by Lord Byron in the 19th century, when he publicized the impression that the bridge’s name was inspired by the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner.

So when Trower sings Why so unforgiving? and why so cold?” – the answer is found in understanding the origins of the bridge.

I love the use of the wind that supports guitar refrain as the track comes to its end – we can feel the cold in our marrow and we know that if it is ‘us’ that makes that crossing, then indeed, ‘The god’s will be looking down in anger’.

Oh, finally, there is a simple repetitive piece of guitar that fades out toward the end, during the last minute of so. On any other track I would have shot it down as simple boring ‘noodling’. In the context of this track, it is brilliant, proving that ‘less is definitely more’!

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
Circa 1980

 

Trower is quoted as saying,“The funny thing about the title song is that I had the opening guitar riff for about 6 months before I could come up with the turnaround section. I loved that opening lick so much. I was determined to make the second half just as perfect. So I waited and waited… and then it came to me. The band played it for the first time at Winterland in San Francisco and we received something like a 10 minute standing ovation. It obviously had magic.”

“The sun don’t shine
The moon don’t move the tides
To wash me clean

Sun don’t shine
The moon don’t move the tides
To wash me clean

Why so unforgiving and why so cold?
Been a long time crossing bridge of sighs

Cold wind blows
The Gods look down in anger
On this poor child

Cold wind blows
And Gods look down in anger
On this poor child

Why so unforgiving and why so cold?
Been a long time crossing bridge of sighs.”

Bridge Of Sighs

Now we move to track #6, “Hannah“.

This track is almost a ballad and a good one at that.

Once again Trower uses great tempo changes, which along with what can only be described as a collage of sounds, working the music in such a way as to completely support the lyrics and the moods they describe.

I really do like the solo he cuts and he is no slouch with his vocal rendition either.

Hannah

This brings me to the fourth track I’d like to comment on and it is the final track on the album – “Bluebird“.

This is a very beautiful track that commences with a delicate guitar rift and simple rim shot on the snare before an understated overdub joins the duo to perform a delightful counter-point.

Trower is able to belt it out and he demonstrates this on many tracks.  Yet in this track he is very, and appropriately, lay-back.

Like most of his compositions, his lyrics are not world stopping and yet in their simplicity lies some delight.

“Sittin’ in the wood alone,
On silver tree that turned to stone,
Branches growin’ overhead,
Make your house and feather bed.
Shiny beak and shiny eyes,
Join the winter paradise.
Singin’ to the settin’ sun,
Prayin’ for the day that’s done

Growin’ quitter as you watch the snow: fallin? down ? down
Down ? down?
If you want to know his heart,
Listen?
Listen to the bluebird sing?

If I had a voice like thine
Melody like summer wine
From sunshine islands, I would bring
Music to the newborn king.

Growin’ quitter as you watch the snow, fallin’ down ? down
Down ? down?
If you want to know his heart,
Listen
Listen to the bluebird sing?

Growin’ quitter as you watch the snow, fallin’ down ? down
Down ? down
If you want to know his heart,
Listen
Listen to the bluebird sing?

Do do-do do do-do do
Do do-do do do-do do
Do do-do do do-do do
Do do-do do do-do do
Do do-do do do-do do”

I suspect a lot of thought went into the placement of this track and it is well placed indeed.

It’s a track that surely is meant to be played late at night when the hassle of the day is over, the tension drains away and we listen to the Bluebird sing, sing the song of peace!

Bluebird

At the end of the day Robin Trower is a far better guitar player than either a singer or a composer.  Yet, there is charm in his simple approach to his lyrics, in both the composition and his delivery.

Lord knows there is are tens of thousand plus more, great guitarists, and, a very few true genius’.

Robin Trower lies somewhere in between.

This is not a stunning album album, but it is a very good album. It remains .a worthy part of my collection.

At a time when a lot of material being recorded was moving into the introverted, belly-button staring, 30 minute meandering solos – Trower resisted and resisted well.

The great thing about the album “Essential” is that unless you are a raving Robin Trower fan and insist on having all his albums, then this album provides almost all his best work and therefore provides those of us who can appreciate his talent but are not rabid fans, with an excellent opportunity of having a decent Robin Trower album.

cream of the crate cd review #4: robin trower – essential
A recent picture of Robin Trower – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

There is a good selection of deep ‘mood’ tracks, uptempo and funky pieces, so it is a good all round album and the tracks on it indicate why he sold so many gold albums.

It is quite easy to score and a quick check on line shows it is readily available for around the Au $20.00Au. So really, there is little excuse for not adding it to your collection.


VIDEOS:

There are a few videos of performances by Robert Trower, although not many from those early years of 1971 – 1975. Here are three live performances of tracks from this album.

 

Bridge of Sighs

 

Too Rolling Stoned

 

Alathea


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

Click to open the following CD reviews:

#1. The Fugs: The Fugs First Album

#2. Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings

#3. Bob Dylan – Biograph