Album Review: Time And Emotion (Robin Trower)

By Cameron Arndt

I didn’t know Robin Trower ever sang. Or, in fact, that he could sing. Being honest, I’ve not got a completely in-depth knowledge of his career in general, so it would have been fairly easy for this fact to escape me. Beyond his celebrated ‘Hendrixian’ Bridge Of Sighs era, a passing familiarity with Procol Harum, and his work with Jack Bruce I’m a bit lost.

The only time I’ve caught the man live was during the Seven Moons tour with Bruce – and there was no vocal mic anywhere near him! A quick bit of research did not enlighten me much as to Trower’s vocal talents. He’s certainly worked with many singers in his career, and of course had bassist James Dewar handling the mic back in the Bridge Of Sighs power trio days.

Photo © Rob Blackman

Thanks to this, and knowing that Trower is, of course, as a peerless guitar player, I came to Time And Emotion most intrigued by the fact he would be handling lead vocals. If that sounds a little limited just know that I had supreme confidence in his ability to turn in superb work instrumentally – a belief more than borne out immediately as Land Of Plenty begins the record with a snaking guitar figure and rhythmic groove. Indeed the entirety of Time And Emotion is filled with such deep grooves, layered with top-class guitar solos. Both Land Of Plenty and follow-up What Was I Really Worth To You are liberally sprinkled with thick, wah-infused tones that you can sit back and sink right into, with the latter adding some whip-crack turnarounds atop shimmering chords.

So what of the singing? At first listen I decided the vocals were perfectly satisfactory. Then with further spins I became more and more impressed. Trower’s voice reminds me at times of the thin tones of Joe Walsh or Marco Mendoza, but he also has some of the deep soulfulness of Cyril Neville. The key is that he easily carries the songs, and sells the emotion in the lyrics. As much as many great guitarists have worked with many great singers over the years, it’s often well worth any slight dip in technical ability to hear an artist fully express themselves with their voice as well as the guitar. Look at some of Brian May’s fragile readings of songs more powerfully rendered by Freddie Mercury, for example, or the inebriated charm Keith Richard’s deploys when away from Mick Jagger in the Xpensive Winos. There’s an authenticity to these works, and here you are able to fully envelop yourself in Trower’s music and Trower’s vision.

Photo © Laurence Harvey

Indeed, enveloping the listener is just what this music does. Trower crafts ethereal soundscapes and luscious grooves which you can float along on, or sink into. Rarely does the tempo rise too far, but there are plenty of subtle variations like the slyly funky guitar motif on I’m Gone which also utilises a pulsing drum beat before concluding with some angular guitar thrusts. Bitten By The Snake is likewise a bit more robust, kicking off from an abrasive string bend into a slightly faster beat. Trower sings with just a hint of harsh conviction as sweet guitar licks stab around the vocal line.

The album continues with more smooth, dreamy vibes overlaid by lashings of stirring, emotional guitar playing, while on the sunny, catchy You’re The One Trower sounds a little like Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler. Nipping in just before the mellow title track, Try Love cuts through with some slinky guitar and tastefully crashing symbols.

This isn’t the kind of album that grabs you by the shoulders or hits you in the face with searing riffs or screeching vocals – of course it isn’t – but it is a superbly crafted, subtly dynamic and all-encompassing record which will reveal new layers on each listen – if you let it. Trower’s plaintive, expressive vocals complement his matchless guitar playing and unfurl a collection of unhurried, yet intense tracks which perfectly serve the prevailing mood. Time and emotion, indeed.

Photo © Rob Blackman




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