|The late Jim Dewar, the fine lead singer|
for Robin Trower's first two albums.
Old guitar riffs do not die as long as I live, as they are the soundtrack of many a routine and daily walk up the stairs to work, treks to the stores, adventures in scattered beach area parking lots, the journey to the forbidden and familiar knowledge behind a girl friend's front door. Or the entrance to a doctor's office, for that matter. I had often joked that each of us is in need of a "signature riff", a power chord mini-anthem ourselves that with which we have on constant mental standby as we go about our routine tasks and past times; I often imagine the open assault of "Mississippi Queen" commanding a room's attention once I enter, if only to perform the mundane obligation of paying a gas bill.
The theme song changes , to be sure--there is no channel changing that's faster or more assured than what goes on the car radio dial of the mind--and there those days when what I carry in my imagined soundtrack in my imagined movie are the genteel whispers of Paul Simon's three-hankie whining, the grating, rusted scraping of early Velvet Underground, the guitar amnesia of Larry Coryell. It varies according to mood and what lies on the to-do list that day. (Not that I actually have a to-do list. It's actually what I remember to get around to accomplish, get over with, or finish from an earlier, half-hearted attempt. I am not so organized. I am a fifty-eight-year-old man, almost fifty-nine, who has the personal habits of, say, your average 17-year-old, just in college, in his first off-campus apartment, with a room of his own). That said, the last few days have been one of stupid-making idleness, since I tripped in my apartment earlier in the week and ran my already-game knee into something hard and unforgiving. The last four days have been missed work, icing the swollen knee --no breaks or fractures, thank goodness-- and diving into an old record collection. Some of this stuff does not sound so bad;
Robin Trower, for example; the former Procul Harum guitarist is very possibly the only Hendrix inspired fret specialist who fully established his own distinct approach to guitar melodrama while still maintaining the ethereal quality of his Mentor's style. Twice Removed from Yesterday, his debut, was a wonderful tone poem start to finish, emphasizing mood and atmospherics, by way of the dreamier parts of Electric Ladyland. His choice of Jim Dewar, ex of Stone the Crows, for a lead vocalist was inspired, a gritty, soulful belter whose lower register gravitas gave the core idyll ism of the lyrics something very solid to wrap around. "I Can't Wait Much Longer" is that rare breed of power ballad that actually manages to make you feel the ache of heart that hungers for a love that won't reciprocate.
Bridge of Sighs veers from the mystical tone and lands on a hard rock style, with a solid grounding in r and b grooves: solid riffs and rhythms, charging solos, veryyyyyyyyyyyy fluid guitar work. Where the first album was strong on thick overlays of guitar tones and coloration to produce a spaced-out elegance, Bridge shifts more towards hard rock and rhythm and blues, up-tempo, hooky riffs and blockbuster vocals. Dewar and Trower are as fine match of lead singer and guitar hero as we've seen emerge from the cantankerous era of Sports Arena rock, as finely twined on production and material on their these two releases as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were on Led Zeppelin's entire body of work or, more appropriately, as Paul Kossoff, guitar and Paul Rodgers, vocals, were in their seminal blues-rock band Free. The secret might be that the two of them are aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses--they compliment each other with nuance, style, a bit of emotional reserve that makes the tension of their best songs here--"Day of the Eagle", "The Fool and Me", "Too Rolling Stone"--continually satisfying. Trower is a blues guitarist at heart and knows the value of fluidity and restraint; during his solos, he continues the vocal line established by Dewar and seems to continue the tale in choicely selected notes, not words. Dewar himself is perhaps the best of the British blues vocalist, a rich, grainy baritone with a supremely dark texture. This band, to be sure, had a penchant for writing the phony-baloney dungeons and dragons fantasy lyrics that laid waste to two generations of budding Ira Gershwins, a subject matter and concomitant imagery wholly unsuitable for the quality of Dewar's voice--imagine Little Milton singing "In the Court of the Crimson King". In these instances, Dewar sounded silly, blustering, bombastic; this is a lesson that bad songs happen to good singers. Ironically, the supreme example happens with this otherwise fine album's title tune. Overall the swirling guitar melodrama, Dewar intones with his best game face and sounds more like a dog barking at car lights casting across a garage wall rather than a strong bluesman. I vote for the bluesman every time.