Manhaton [Release date 06.05.15]
You don’t so much listen to a Robin Trower album these days as simply immerse yourself in his grooves. His combination of guitar artistry, syrupy grooves, heartfelt vocals and a constant search for the emotional core in a song evokes Peter Green at his best.
‘Where You Are Going To’ is everything his last few albums hinted at, but never quite delivered. His playing is magisterial, his singing is easily the best so far and he’s mixed the tempos to make the album more accessible.
Trower’s rock-blues template has moved on from his 70′s power-trio hey-day. His solos still offer fleeting glimpses of Hendrix’s psychedelia, but the emphasis is now focussed on a series of subtle moods and atmospheric feels. From a guitarists point of view, its arguably the kind of album Hendrix might have made had he still been with us.
Trower also handles all the vocals, which on the evidence of this album is probably because of the personal nature of a lot of his lyrics.
Where a few years ago he palpably struggled as a lead vocalist, he’s now literally found his voice and an ability to phrase with real meaning and draw on life experiences to give his songs real depth.
He’s a feel player for whom every note counts. Each song is an emotional footprint on a landscape of vast possibilities. He explores that terrain with a seamless flow, kick started by the clever segueing of the opening two tracks, while the combination of his dreamy voice, subtle musical pulses and a deep guitar tone draws us into a beautifully crafted album.
He’s also unafraid to occasionally lose himself in the moment, as on the title track when he broaches the subconscious and speaks to us from the heart via his guitar.
Trower tells us this album is a continuation of the same songwriting process that produced ‘Something’s About To Change’, but this album nails all his best elements to give him his best songs in recent times.
The album is a perfectly weighted piece of work in which his contemplative style perfectly fits his guitar playing.
The deeply reflective and spiritual ‘We Will Be Together Someday’, is a perfect example of the way he lets his tone speak in an unhurried way. Each note hovers above us and pulls the listener in different emotional directions on a wonderful example of the less is more style so beloved by Peter Green.
‘I’m Holding On To You’ similarly makes its mark as a deep groove with beautiful sculpted guitar work matched by an emotive vocal.
The title track is the album highlight, with a guitar figure redolent of Trower 70′s blues rock period, but he digs deep for a another lingering groove full of expressive phrasing and a lovely touch and tone on one of his best tracks in years.
‘Back Where You Belong’ is a more concise riff-driven piece full of dirt sounding wah-wah and a decent vocal that delivers the punchy title track hook, Its a great example of his ability to construct a song with subtle dynamics, as his guitar squalls slip in and out of the arrangement to build a subtle tension, which he then resolves with a relaxed but definitive solo over subtle bv’s.
‘Jigsaw’ could easily be a comment about the album of the whole, with a series of interlinked feels, riffs, grooves and themes that draw you in.
The funky ‘The Fruits Of Your Desire’ – complete with a Henrik Freischlader style vocal – gives the album a lift, while ‘In Too Deep’ is a subtly balanced piece that showcases both his tonal ability and use of restraint.
He may be a ‘players player’, but his songs uncover moments of clarity, reflection and deep contemplation. By the time of the closing mid-tempo ‘Delusion Sweet Delusion’ we’re locked into a musical journey full of understated riffs, subtle tonal nuances and an overall laid back feel that is in sharp contrast to his weighty lyrics.
In a world of instant downloads where albums are all but irrelevant, Trower is a timely reminder of the craft of recording a coherent body of work. He’s an enduring rock-blues guitarist who has reshaped his art into the kind of unique introspective style that makes ‘Where You Are Going To’ so damn good. **** 1/2
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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