Graded on a Curve:
Robin Trower,
Robin Trower Live

Always with the Hendrix comparisons!

Here all Robin Trower wanted to do after he skipped the light fandango out of Procol Harum in 1971 was play some titanic blooze, but every which way he turned people were calling him a clone of rock’s greatest dead guitarist and how do you think that made the poor guy feel?

Crappy probably.

Here’s The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, circa 1975: “Is [Trower] experienced? He’s a retread, and the best thing I can say for him is that he makes me remember the verve, humor, and fluidity of the original.”

Ouch!

Well I happen to love the music Trower’s power trio was putting out in the mid-seventies and I don’t give a flying fuck whether people dismiss him as a Hendrix wannabe.

Are there similarities? Sure. But Trower’s doom-laden, Stonehenge-heavy guitar stylings are quite easy to differentiate from Hendrix’s manic-impressive chord splooge, and speaking of Stonehenge, Trower’s vocalist cum bassist James Dewar (formerly of Stone the Crows and a proud member of the Paul Rodgers’ school of blue-eyed soul men) never fails to come off like some kind of death-stalked Druid dude bemoaning the fact that he’s lost in the night and fog and can hear the wolves a’circling.

At its best, Trower’s music is some of the most foreboding and eerie shit you’ll ever run across, all howling winds and impenetrable mists and bridges a’sighing and werewolves stalking the moors, and while he never took the world by storm there were heaps of heavy-music-loving freaks out there (downer-mutated hormonal teen males, most of ‘em!) who stone dug the monstrous din his trio was laying down. So fuck Robert Christgau’s impeccable taste and turn up the Marshall amps!

As for product, I would recommend either 1974’s very quaalude-friendly Bridge of Sighs (I got it from my parents for Christmas one year–on 8-track!) or 1976’s Robin Trower Live, which is as snazzy a concert memento as any recorded during the seventies but even better because, get this, there ain’t no talking guitar! (And Bill Lordan keeps the inevitable drum solo short.)

No, on Robin Trower Live the trio settles for bludgeoning your brainpan with seven songs from Trower’s three previous solo studio releases, and with the exception of the atmospheric (and admittedly Hendrix-like) “Daydream,” which is a mite too wussified for my barbarian tastes (think second-rate “Little Wing”), they never let up.

When it comes to sheer menace you can’t beat peat-bog-plod masterpiece “I Can’t Wait Much Longer,” on which Trower lays down these monolithic doom riffs that let you know the end is nigh and you’d best get up off of that beanbag chair and run, not that it will help–it’s too late and you’re already dead.

Meanwhile, LP opener (and highlight) “Too Rolling Stoned” is a pure Kozmik boogie on which Trower plays some great chukka-chukka guitar and engages in lots of extraneous ax pyrotechnics, while B.B. King cover “Rock Me Baby” gives Trower ample opportunity to strut his stuff but comes up short in the Celtic gloom department. As for “Lady Love” you would expect it to be a gooey ballad and total waste of vinyl but it ain’t–Dewar cuts through the guitar slash and drum pummel with his 1,000-watt tonsils, and while it ain’t for the ages this one sounds just swell in my earphones.

“Althea” boasts a big Cream feel and lots of wah-wah and I’ll bet the lucky Olofs and Birgittas at the Stockholm Concert Hall where this baby was recorded all left a little bit happier about the fact that the only job you could get in Sweden in the mid-seventies was making nudie films. As for closer “A Little Bit of Sympathy, it reminds me of Henry Miller’s description of a hard-on as “a piece of lead with wings on it” because it sounds too heavy to fly but somehow still does. And Trower makes his guitar sound like an angry turkey!

When it comes to 1970s concert documents I’ll put this one over the ones produced by Kiss, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick, Yes, Humble Pie, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy–Foghat even! Do I wish it had “Bridge of Sighs” and “Day of the Eagle” on it? Damn right I do! Cuz if it did, I might even be as good as Slade Alive!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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